Kendrick v. Everheart, 56759

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Citation390 So.2d 53
Docket NumberNo. 56759,56759
PartiesWilliam KENDRICK, Appellant, v. Annie EVERHEART a/k/a Annie Kendrick, Dennis Everheart, and Jim Smith, Attorney General, State of Florida, Appellees.
Decision Date06 November 1980

Adrienne Maidenbaum of the Legal Aid Service of Broward County, Inc., Hollywood, for appellant.

Jim Smith, Atty. Gen., and Brian E. Norton, Asst. Atty. Gen., Tallahassee, for appellee.

SUNDBERG, Chief Justice.

The general issue presented in this appeal is whether a putative father may bring an action to adjudicate his paternity either under Florida's determination of paternity statute, chapter 742, Florida Statutes (1977), or under Florida's declaratory judgment statute, chapter 86, Florida Statutes (1977). The trial court held that a putative father may not bring an action for adjudication of paternity under either chapter and dismissed the case on the pleadings. Because the trial court ruled on the constitutionality of section 742.011, Florida Statutes, we have jurisdiction pursuant to article V, section 3(b)(1), Florida Constitution.

Appellant William Kendrick filed this suit alleging that he is the father of five minor children born out of wedlock. Appellant apparently has custody of the children and has provided for their support. He seeks (a) an adjudication of paternity and amendment of the children's birth certificates and their names to reflect that he is the natural father, (b) alternative declaratory relief under chapter 86, Florida Statutes, declaring section 742.011, Florida Statutes, unconstitutional as a violation of equal protection under the United States 1 and Florida Constitutions 2 and a denial of access to the courts under the Florida Constitution, 3 and (c) a court order of child custody and child support from the natural mother. The children's mother, Annie Everheart, and her husband, Dennis Everheart, were named as defendants. Although it is not clear from the record whether Annie and Dennis Everheart are still married, it appears that they were married at the time of the birth of at least two of these children, both of whose birth certificates name Dennis Everheart as their father. Two of the children's birth certificates do not list a father and the paternity listing on the birth certificate of the fifth child is not alleged or otherwise reflected in the record. Both Annie and Dennis Everheart admit that appellant is the natural father of the children listed in appellant's complaint. 4 Since appellant challenged the constitutionality of section 742.011, Florida Statutes, the state, acting through the Attorney General, intervened in the case pursuant to section 86.091, Florida Statutes, 5 to defend the constitutionality of the challenged statute.

Upon the state's motion, the trial court dismissed appellant's action on the pleadings. The trial court held that Kendrick did not state a legal cause of action under section 742.011, reasoning that the purpose of the paternity statute is to provide a natural mother with a judicial mechanism for obtaining child support from the natural father rather than to provide a putative father with a means to prove his own paternity. The trial court also held that a putative father may not bring an action for a declaratory judgment adjudicating his paternity under chapter 86, citing Ford v. Loeffler, 363 So.2d 23 (Fla. 3d DCA 1978). The court further determined that section 742.011 is constitutional and does not deny a man equal protection of the laws nor access to the courts. The case was, therefore, dismissed without prejudice to Kendrick's right to bring another action for the relief sought under any other more appropriate statutory remedy. From the trial court's judgment dismissing the suit, Kendrick brings this appeal.

Section 742.011 of Florida's paternity act, chapter 742, provides that:

Any unmarried woman who shall be pregnant or delivered of a child may bring proceedings in the Circuit Court, in chancery, to determine the paternity of such child.

Appellant argues initially that section 742.011, as construed in Gammon v. Cobb, 335 So.2d 261 (Fla.1976), 6 establishes a statutory classification which distinguishes between males and females by permitting a woman but not a man to bring an action to determine paternity of a child, thus being subject to scrutiny under the equal protection clause. Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 97 S.Ct. 451, 50 L.Ed.2d 397 (1976). He points out that to withstand scrutiny under the equal protection clause, classifications by gender must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to achievement of those objectives. Caban v. Mohammed, 441 U.S. 380, 99 S.Ct. 1760, 60 L.Ed.2d 297 (1979); Orr v. Orr, 440 U.S. 268, 99 S.Ct. 1102, 59 L.Ed.2d 306 (1979). The purpose of Florida's paternity statute, appellant continues, is to protect the interests of a child illegitimately conceived and to impose an obligation on the natural father to provide support. Gammon v. Cobb, supra. Appellant asserts that he is furthering the child's interests in bringing this suit for adjudication of paternity. Therefore, he argues that the classification in section 742.011 is irrational because it denies to a man, who has supported and established a familial relationship with his children, the right to be legally declared the father.

First of all, we recognize that disparate treatment of men and women who are similarly situated violates equal protection of the laws. Parham v. Hughes, 441 U.S. 347, 99 S.Ct. 1742, 60 L.Ed.2d 269 (1979); Orr v. Orr; Schlesinger v. Ballard, 419 U.S. 498, 95 S.Ct. 572, 42 L.Ed.2d 610 (1975); Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71, 92 S.Ct. 251, 30 L.Ed.2d 225 (1971); In re Estate of Reed, 354 So.2d 864 (Fla.1978); Wilcox v. Jones, 346 So.2d 1037 (Fla. 4th DCA 1977), cert. denied, 357 So.2d 188 (Fla.1978). Thus in this suit we must determine whether men and women are in fact similarly situated with respect to the issues presented so that any gender-based distinction is substantially related to achievement of an important state interest. We shall first address appellant's argument that Florida's paternity act is unconstitutional and then address the issue of whether a putative father may obtain an adjudication of paternity under the declaratory judgment act.

We agree with the trial court that the purpose of the paternity statute, chapter 742, is to afford a basis on which a court may order child support from a man adjudicated to be the father of the illegitimate child. T. J. K. v. N. B., 237 So.2d 592 (Fla. 4th DCA 1970). The paternity statute was enacted in abrogation of the common law in order to convert the father's moral obligation to provide child support to a legal obligation and in order to relieve the public of the need to provide support for the child. Gammon v. Cobb; Mocher v. Rasmussen-Taxdal, 180 So.2d 488 (Fla. 2d DCA 1965); DeMoya v. dePena, 148 So.2d 735 (Fla. 3d DCA 1963). The determination of paternity is made only incidentally to enable achievement of the statute's purposes. A father may achieve these statutory purposes by acknowledging the child as his own and by voluntarily providing financial support. He can achieve this, unlike the mother, without the need to resort to litigation. For this reason it cannot be said that the legislature in enacting chapter 742 imposed disparate treatment on men and women who are similarly situated. When men and women are not in fact similarly situated in the area covered by the legislation in question, the equal protection clause is not violated. See Parham v. Hughes and Schlesinger v. Ballard, supra. That the paternity statute does not unfairly operate against unwed fathers is further demonstrated by the fact that the statute authorizes the court in a proper case to award child custody to the father and contemplates the imposition of child support obligations on either or both parents depending on their ability and other relevant circumstances. See Brown v. Bray, 300 So.2d 668 (Fla.1974). Thus, in protecting the welfare of minor children, chapter 742 serves an important state interest. And by providing a mother with the legal means by which she may enforce her child's support rights against the natural father, chapter 742 does not serve to deprive that father of any of his rights.

We turn next to the issue of whether appellant may bring an action for declaratory judgment to determine his paternity. The trial court below, in holding that a putative father may not bring a declaratory action, relied on Ford v. Loeffler, supra. See also Perez v. Stevens, 362 So.2d 998 (Fla. 3d DCA 1978), cert. denied, 368 So.2d 1372 (Fla.), cert denied, 444 U.S. 837 (1979). In Ford v. Loeffler plaintiff alleged that he was the father of defendant's child and sought visitation rights. In affirming the dismissal of plaintiff's complaint, the district court stated that no precedent exists which gives a putative father the right to institute a cause of action to establish that he is the father of a child the mother denies is his. The court, noting in particular section 742.10, held that chapter 742 provides the jurisdictional basis for a court to determine paternity and pointed out that under the statute the mother alone is given the right to institute paternity proceedings. See Clarke v. Blackburn, 151 So.2d 325 (Fla. 2d DCA 1963). Since the plaintiff could not establish paternity, the court declined to consider his child visitation rights. Apparently, the trial court in this case likewise declined to pass on appellant's other claims for relief because of his failure to first establish paternity.

Appellant contends that the decision in Ford v. Loeffler fails to recognize the legitimate rights of a putative father and unconstitutionally denies him a judicial forum in which to assert those rights. In support of his argument, appellant quotes the following statement from Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 652, 92 S.Ct. 1208, 1213, 31 L.Ed.2d...

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