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Judges split over ruling in failed adoption case

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A majority on the Indiana Court of Appeals Friday reversed summary judgment in favor of the facilitator of an adoption on a negligence claim brought by the adoptive parents after the baby’s biological father sought and was awarded custody.

In Jason and Justina Kramer v. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Inc., 71A03-1308-CT-301, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend facilitated a meeting between M.S. and Jason and Justina Kramer regarding the adoption of M.S.’s unborn child. Through this process, the Kramers signed two waivers that stated the baby’s father could exert legal rights and that the placement of the child with them is at-risk. M.S. declined to identify the father.

Catholic Charities performed two searches of the Indiana State Health Department’s records to see if anyone claimed to be the baby’s father. The first search showed nothing; the second search discovered that on April 27, R.M. registered. It’s unknown why this didn’t show up during the first search on May 25.

The Kramers sought to adopt the baby anyway; R.M. contested the adoption and was awarded custody of the baby. The Kramers relinquished custody of the baby in January 2011.

They sued, alleging Catholic Charities was negligent when it failed to check the putative father registry before placing the child with them. The trial court granted summary judgment to Catholic Charities.

Judges Edward Najam and Terry Crone reversed, holding that the releases executed by the Kramers did not bar their claims because they do not explicitly contemplate Catholic Charities’ negligence.  

“Here, the Kramers designated evidence that Catholic Charities had a policy of checking the putative father registry twice before placing a child with a pre-adoptive family. And the Kramers contend that Catholic Charities was negligent when it did not comply with that policy before placing E. with them. While there was risk inherent in the nature of the placement, we hold that the risk that Catholic Charities would not comply with its policy to check the putative father registry twice before a pre-adoptive placement was not inherent in the nature of the placement. This policy was unknown to the Kramers at the time they worked with Catholic Charities and, at best, Catholic Charities’ failure to comply with this policy presented a latent risk to the Kramers,” Najam wrote.

Judge John Baker dissented, writing that the agency satisfied its burden and made a prima facie showing that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. He pointed out that perhaps the registration document executed by R.M. hadn’t been properly filed until after the first search was executed, so Catholic Charities wouldn’t have discovered it. And if an earlier check would not have found the father’s registration, the Kramers would have accepted the child even if Catholic Charities had checked the registry before placing the baby with them.

“In any event, it is undisputed that the father registered before the child was born, and there is no showing that Catholic Charities’s failure to check the registry proximately caused any alleged injuries to the Kramers,” he wrote.
 

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  4. It would be hard not to feel the Kramers' anguish. But Catholic Charities, by definition, performed due diligence and held to the statutory standard of care. No good can come from punishing them for doing their duty. Should Indiana wish to change its laws regarding adoption agreements and or putative fathers, the place for that is the legislature and can only apply to future cases. We do not apply new laws to past actions, as the Kramers seem intent on doing, to no helpful end.

  5. I am saddened to hear about the loss of Zeff Weiss. He was an outstanding member of the Indianapolis legal community. My thoughts are with his family.

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