Tandra S. v. Tyrone W.

Decision Date01 September 1993
Docket Number157,Nos. 144,s. 144
Citation648 A.2d 439,336 Md. 303
PartiesTANDRA S. v. TYRONE W. BALTIMORE CITY OFFICE OF CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT, STATE of Maryland, DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RESOURCES v. JOHN S., JR. ,
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Joseph B. Spillman, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., both on brief) Baltimore, for appellant in No. 144 and petitioner in No. 157.

Harry Sadoff, Cambridge, for appellee in No. 144.

La'Vern D. Wiley, (Allen T. Eaton, Eaton, McClellan & Allen, all on brief) Washington, DC, for respondent in No. 157.

Argued before MURPHY, C.J., and ELDRIDGE, RODOWSKY, CHASANOW, KARWACKI, BELL and RAKER, JJ.

MURPHY, Chief Judge.

These companion cases present the question whether a court can vacate an enrolled paternity judgment based on the results of a post-judgment blood test or based on the mother's post-judgment testimony that the judicially determined father is not in fact the father.

I
A Case Number 144

On August 31, 1990, Tandra S. gave birth to T.W., a baby girl. Tyrone W. and Tandra executed a paternity agreement on October 19, 1990 in which Tyrone acknowledged his paternity of T.W. In this agreement, Tyrone agreed to pay child support and a portion of the child's medical expenses. In addition, the agreement provided that Tandra would have custody and guardianship of T.W., while Tyrone would have reasonable visitation rights.

On October 26, 1990, Tandra filed a paternity complaint in the Circuit Court for Talbot County alleging Tyrone's paternity of T.W., and incorporating the paternity agreement. 1 Pursuant to the parties agreement, the court entered a final judgment on October 30, 1990, entitled "Paternity Declaration," which established Tyrone's paternity of T.W. The judgment, following the dictate of the agreement, required Tyrone to pay $10.00 per week to Tandra for child support and also ordered him to pay one-half of the child's medical expenses not covered by insurance.

Approximately two and one-half years later, on April 1, 1993, Tyrone filed a motion to set aside the judgment of paternity and a request for blood tests. In the motion, he stated that Tandra had recently informed him that he was not T.W.'s father. Tandra responded in opposition to the motion asserting that the 1990 declaration of paternity was a final judgment and as such could not be disturbed after two and one-half years. Tandra also filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the judgment of paternity could not be set aside absent fraud, mistake or irregularity. Tyrone responded with a "Motion to Dismiss Motion for Summary Judgment of Paternity and Renewal of Motion to Set Aside Judgment of Paternity." In this pleading, he contended that there was indeed a mistake in the case, i.e., he was mistakenly named the father of the child.

On April 9, 1993, prior to any judicial hearing, the circuit court ordered the parties and the child to submit to blood tests. The results of the blood tests excluded Tyrone as a potential father.

A hearing was then held in June of 1993 regarding Tyrone's motion to set aside the paternity judgment. 2 The circuit court (Horne, J.) initially noted that Maryland Rule 2-535 limits a court's right to vacate or modify an enrolled judgment. In particular, it explained that Rule 2-535(b) permits a court to "exercise revisory power and control over [an enrolled] judgment [only] in case of fraud, mistake, or irregularity."

The court determined that Tyrone had failed to establish fraud, mistake, or irregularity. It also said that it should not have granted the motion for blood test without first holding a hearing, and would not, in the future, order post-judgment blood tests. Nevertheless, the circuit court granted Tyrone's motion to set aside the paternity judgment because it concluded that it would be unjust to force Tyrone to continue paying child support after it had been scientifically proven that he was not the child's father. As a result of the paternity judgment being vacated, the child was left fatherless. We granted certiorari prior to consideration of the appeal by the intermediate appellate court.

B Case Number 157

On September 21, 1985, Vandella H. gave birth to John S., III. Vandella filed a paternity petition in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City on November 21, 1985, naming John S., Jr. as the father of her child. During the paternity proceedings in March of 1986, John and Vandella each testified that John was the father of the child. 3 John was not represented by counsel at this hearing. On April 9, 1986, the circuit court entered a decree declaring John to be the father of the child; it also ordered him to pay $25.00 per week in child support and $2.00 per week for reimbursement to the State's Medical Assistance Program.

On October 26, 1987, Vandella filed a petition for change of name in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, requesting that her child's name be changed from John S., III to S.A.S., in order "to reflect his true lineage and parentage." In this petition, Vandella stated that Randy S., not John, was the "actual father" of her child. The alleged natural father, Randy, consented to the passage of an order changing the child's birth certificate to show that he was the "true and legal father" of the child. It is unclear whether John received notice of this change of name proceeding. 4 According to Vandella, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City granted her request to change her child's name on March 14, 1988.

Shortly after the change of name proceeding, Vandella informed John that he was not the father of the child, admitted to him that she had falsified the paternity petition in 1985, and admitted to him that she had committed perjury in the original paternity proceeding. Vandella and John thereafter contacted the Department of Social Services on several occasions in an attempt to terminate John's child support payments. None of these requests were granted.

On March 19, 1992, approximately six years after the enrollment of the paternity judgment and approximately four years after the child's name change, John filed a motion to vacate the paternity judgment, or in the alternative, to modify child support. The Baltimore City Office of Child Support Enforcement (BCOCSE) moved to intervene, arguing that no party was adequately representing the interests of the Department of Social Services of Baltimore City. It also averred that the 1986 decree could not be revised because John's motion to vacate failed to allege any fraud, mistake, or irregularity. BCOCSE was permitted to intervene in the case. 5

At a hearing on October 26, 1992 in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Vandella stated that she last had sexual relations with John in September of 1984, approximately one year before her child was born. Notwithstanding the fundamental principles of biology, she testified that John believed her when she informed him that he was the child's father. She further testified that she resumed her relationship with John in February of 1985.

According to Vandella, she had a brief relationship with Randy in December of 1984, which resulted in the birth of the child whose paternity is at issue in this case. She described Randy as "not a serious boyfriend," but admitted that Randy was also the father of another child later born to her in 1988. Randy, a resident of New Jersey, was not made a party to the proceeding below. Neither Randy nor John testified at the hearing below and neither man submitted to a blood test to determine paternity.

On the same day as the hearing took place, the circuit court (Byrnes, J.) issued an order, which vacated the 1986 paternity judgment and released John from all support obligations. It reasoned that because the mother, the "real father," and John, the "adjudicated father," all agreed that John was mistakenly named the father in 1986, it would be in the interests of justice to set aside the judgment. The court did not concurrently establish paternity in another man; thus, the child was left fatherless.

BCOCSE appealed to the Court of Special Appeals and that court, in an unreported opinion, affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. The intermediate appellate court held that, notwithstanding the circuit court's limited revisory powers as set forth by our cases, Maryland Rule 2-535(b), § 6-408 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, and § 5-1038(a) of the Family Law Article, the circuit court properly vacated the prior paternity judgment because it "avoide[d] paramount inequity."

In particular, the court found that § 5-1007 of the Family Law Article governed the case. That section provides that "[a]ny rule of court or statute that relates to procedure applies to a proceeding under this subtitle only to the extent that the rule or statute is: (1) practical under the circumstances; and (2) not inconsistent with this subtitle." 6 The court determined that the "limitations on the court's revisory power, imposed by Rule 2-535(b) and CJ § 6-408, are impractical in light of the specific circumstances" of the case. It concluded that "[t]o compel a person, who is not the father of a child, to continue paying support for that child when the child's mother, the child's biological father, and the alleged father agree on the issue of paternity, and the child's birth certificate and name have been changed to reflect his true parentage, perpetuates injustice and defies common sense." Accordingly, the court held that the circuit court had not abused its revisory powers. 7

II

Before us, the Attorney General appeared on behalf of petitioner, Tandra, in case no. 144, and petitioner, BCOCSE, in case no. 157. He observes that enrolled judgments may only be revised in limited circumstances, i.e., for fraud, mistake, or irregularity. The Attorney General maintains that neither fraud, mistake, nor irregularity, as those terms have been defined through judicial decision, existed in these cases. He...

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