Superior Court v. Ricketts, 2677

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Citation153 Md. App. 281,836 A.2d 707
Docket NumberNo. 2677,2677
Decision Date01 December 2003

836 A.2d 707
153 Md.
App. 281


No. 2677, Sept. Term, 2001.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

December 1, 2003.

836 A.2d 711
Barbara Strong Goss (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., on brief), for appellant


836 A.2d 708
836 A.2d 709

836 A.2d 710

This procedural quagmire is rooted in a 1991 California paternity judgment (the "Paternity Judgment"), obtained by default, and a 1998 California child support judgment (the "Child Support Judgment"), also obtained by default. Both judgments were issued by the Superior Court of California, County of Stanislaus, Family Support Division O/B/O Joeann Jones, appellant, against Scott Ricketts, appellee.

The 1998 Child Support Judgment required Ricketts to pay monthly child support of $370 plus arrearages of over $10,000 for Scott Ricketts, Jr., who was born to Ms. Jones in California on July 24, 1991.1 Thereafter, in February 1999, pursuant to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act ("UIFSA"), Maryland Code (1999 Repl.Vol.), §§ 10-301 et. seq. of the Family Law Article ("F.L."), and the Full Faith and Credit Clause, embodied in Art. IV, § 1 of the United States Constitution, appellant initiated proceedings in the Circuit Court for Carroll County to register and enforce the 1998 Child Support Judgment.

In the court below, Ricketts challenged the registration of the Child Support Judgment.2 Thereafter, on February 1, 2002, the circuit court vacated the registration of the Child Support Judgment, finding, inter alia, that appellee was not afforded an opportunity to be heard in California.

This appeal followed,3 in which appellant poses one question:

Did the circuit court violate the United States Constitution and federal and Maryland law by refusing to accord full faith and credit to a properly certified California child support judgment when the record contained no evidence to satisfy the contesting party's burden of overcoming the strong presumption that an out-of-state child support judgment is valid and enforceable?

For the reasons stated below, we shall affirm.


In 1990, appellee lived in Maryland with his girlfriend, Joeann Ortiz, now known as Joeann Jones. In August of that year, the couple moved to California. On November 14, 1990, appellee returned to Maryland.

836 A.2d 712
The next day, Ms. Jones told appellee that she was pregnant with his child. On July 24, 1991, Scott Ricketts, Jr. was born to Ms. Jones in California.

On May 6, 1991, during Ms. Jones's pregnancy, the County of Stanislaus, "on behalf of UNBORN CHILD," filed suit against appellee in the California Superior Court, seeking to establish paternity of the unborn child; to obtain reimbursement for public assistance provided to Ms. Jones; and to obtain child support. The complaint alleged, inter alia, that "the natural mother, Joeann Alice Ortiz, and the defendant, Scott Al[a]n Ricketts, had sexual relations with each other which resulted in the conception...."

The paternity suit was served on appellee in Maryland on May 11, 1991. The suit included a document titled "Notice To Defendant," which contained the following information:

You have 30 CALENDAR DAYS after this summons is served on you to file a typewritten response at this court.
A letter or phone call will not protect you; your typewritten response must be in proper legal form if you want the court to hear your case.
If you do not file your response on time, you may lose the case, and your wages, money and property may be taken without further warning from the court.
There are other legal requirements. You may want to call an attorney right away. If you do not know an attorney, you may call an attorney referral service or a legal aid office (listed in the phone book).

The Notice also included the address of the Superior Court in Modesto as well as the name, address, and telephone of Donald N. Stahl, District Attorney, County of Stanislaus.

On May 29, 1991, eighteen days after service of the paternity suit, Ricketts, pro se, signed a "Motion to Dismiss For Lack Of Jurisdiction," contending that he and Ms. Jones "are residents of the State of Maryland and not of the State of California." In addition, Ricketts attached a "Certificate of Mailing" to his motion, indicating that he mailed a copy to Stahl. Further, Jack D. Leonard, II, Esquire, a Maryland lawyer, signed a cover letter, dated May 29, 1991, and sent the Motion to the Clerk of the Superior Court of California "for filing." According to the cover letter, the motion was mailed to the exact address in Modesto that was provided by the Superior Court.

On or about June 10, 1991, the Clerk of the Superior Court apparently returned the motion to dismiss to Ricketts, in care of Leonard. The Clerk included a handwritten note, stating: "Notice must be served on DA; [unreadable] must be signed before a Notary; Motion must be set for hearing or perhaps DA will sign a Stipulation for dismissal." However, there is no evidence in the record contradicting Ricketts's certificate of mailing, in which he said he mailed a copy of his motion to the District Attorney.

In any event, on June 19, 1991, appellee, pro se, re-submitted his motion to dismiss. Again, Leonard prepared a cover letter, also dated June 19, 1991, indicating that the motion to dismiss was sent by certified mail to Stahl, the District Attorney.4 In

836 A.2d 713
mailing the motion to Stahl, Leonard followed the Clerk's directions. Appellee heard nothing further, despite the Clerk's earlier indication that a hearing "must" be held.

Appellant concedes in its brief that the first motion to dismiss "was timely [filed] and properly addressed to the Clerk of the Court, Superior Court of California in Modesto." However, appellant claims "it was not verified as required." With regard to the second motion, appellant concedes that it was "verified," as required, but maintains that it "was not timely" filed.

We pause to observe that, by the time the Clerk contacted appellee on June 10, 1991, thirty days had elapsed from the time that appellee was served with the paternity suit. Therefore, it was impossible for appellee to timely file the revised motion. And, it is significant that the Notice did not advise appellee that, if he filed a motion, it had to be verified. Nor has appellant referred us to any legal authority demonstrating that appellee was, indeed, required to file a verified motion to dismiss.

On September 12, 1991, a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge signed a default "Paternity Default Judgment And Order," purportedly based on appellee's "failure to appear or answer the complaint filed herein, or take any other proceedings within the time allowed by law...." Filed on September 16, 1991, the Paternity Judgment found that "the allegations set forth in the complaint are true and correct," and declared appellee "the natural father" of an "unborn child, due to be born August 8, 1991." Further, it stated, in part:

Default in the above entitled action having been entered ... and evidence submitted by the plaintiff in their Request and Declaration for Default Judgment, and it appearing to the court that the default of the defendant for failure to appear or answer the complaint filed herein, or take any other proceedings within the time allowed by law has been duly and regularly entered, and the declaration of non-military status having been filed, as provided by law, and evidence having been introduced in support of the allegations contained in said plaintiff's complaint, and the defendant having been advised of his right to a court appointed attorney if he is indigent, and no request for appointment having been made, the court having duly considered the law and evidence, and it appearing to the court from the evidence that all of the allegations contained in the complaint are true....

The record does not contain any evidence relied upon by the California court "in support of the allegations" regarding paternity. Appellee did not seek to vacate or challenge the Default Judgment under CAL.CIV.PROC.CODE § 473.5 (2003).

In the meantime, on or about May 30, 1991, appellee received a "Voluntary Child Support/Contribution Form" from the South Carolina Department of Social Services. Appellee was asked if he had made any contributions to Ms. Ortiz for the months of February, March, and April 1991, and the inquiry indicated that Ms. Ortiz lived in Conway, South Carolina. In response, Leonard wrote to the Horry County Department of Social Services in Conway on June 11, 1991, stating: "It amazes me how this woman is qualified to receive benefits from you when she has been living in three different states in the past six months and has filed claims in

836 A.2d 714
California and with you for support against my client." Appellee never heard anything further from South Carolina.

On December 19, 1997, James Brazelton, then the District Attorney for the County of Stanislaus, filed in the Superior Court of California a "Complaint Regarding Parental Obligations," seeking child support for Scott Ricketts, Jr., in the amount of $3700, dating from January 1996, when "public assistance [was] first paid." According to appellant, Ricketts "was served in Maryland," although the date of service is unclear. A blank Answer form (Form 1299.04) was included with the Complaint.5 The front of the Complaint stated, in part:

... This lawsuit says you are the parent of each child named in this complaint and that you must pay child support. The attached proposed Judgment Regarding Parental Obligations (Form 1299.12) names you as a parent of each child listed below and if there is an amount stated in paragraph 6, orders you to pay support for these children. If you disagree with the proposed judgment, you must file the

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21 cases
  • Fludd v. Kirkwood
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • December 16, 2021
    ...scheme establishes "procedural and jurisdictional rules for interstate child support proceedings," Superior Court v. Ricketts , 153 Md. App. 281, 319, 836 A.2d 707 (2003), but "does not address custody," Friedetzky , 223 Md. App. at 735, 117 A.3d 660. The UIFSA seeks to eliminate "the probl......
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    ...v. Cent. Hanover Bank & Tr. Co. , 339 U.S. 306, 313, 70 S.Ct. 652, 94 L.Ed. 865 (1950) ); see also, e.g. , Superior Court v. Ricketts , 153 Md. App. 281, 336-37, 836 A.2d 707 (2003) (citing cases for the proposition "that procedural due process requires that litigants must receive notice, a......
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    • United States
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    • November 2, 2007
    ...Samuels v. Tschechtelin, 135 Md.App. 483, 523, 763 A.2d 209 (2000); see Superior Court of California, County of Stanislaus v. Ricketts, 153 Md.App. 281, 336, 836 A.2d 707 (2003). In this case, we are concerned only with the first "Procedural due process imposes constraints on governmental d......
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    • United States
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    ...Riley v. New York Trust Co., supra, 315 U.S. 343, at 353, 62 S.Ct., at 614, 86 L.Ed. 885 [(1942)]. See also Superior Court v. Ricketts, 153 Md.App. 281, 326, 836 A.2d 707 (2003) ("`[a] final judgment in one State, if rendered by a court with adjudicatory authority over the subject matter an......
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