We have been following a series of paternity cases (here and here and here and here) where courts have rejected claims of lack of consent or knowledge by a parent in forcing child support payments. I just ran over a case that, while now a bit dated, is remarkable. The case involves a Chicago doctor who was forced to pay child support after his girlfriend, without his knowledge, saved sperm from oral sex and arranged to be impregnated with it. The case came to public attention after an appellate court ruled that Dr. Richard O. Phillips could sue Dr. Sharon Irons for emotional distress in the case.
Here are the facts:
During their relationship, the parties discussed the possibility of having children only after they married. Plaintiff informed defendant he did not wish to have children prior to marriage, and intended to use a condom if and when they engaged in sexual intercourse. Defendant understood and agreed. During the entire course of their relationship, the parties engaged in intimate sexual acts three times, with two of those times occurring on the same date. Vaginal penetration never occurred; the parties engaged only in acts of oral sex. Defendant told plaintiff she did not want to have sexual intercourse due to her menses. On or around February 19, 1999, and March 19, 1999, defendant “intentionally engaged in oral sex with [plaintiff] so that she could harvest [his] semen and artificially inseminate herself,” and “did artificially inseminate herself.”
Plaintiff’s complaint alleged further that in May of 1999, defendant confessed to plaintiff that she still was married to her former husband, Dr. Adebowale Adeleye. She told plaintiff she planned to get a divorce, and showed him a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage,” which was filed on May 20, 1999. In the petition, defendant swore she was not pregnant. The parties’ relationship terminated in May of 1999, upon plaintiff learning defendant was not divorced.
On November 21, 2000, defendant filed a “Petition to Establish Paternity and Other Relief” against plaintiff, claiming she and plaintiff had a sexual relationship eight to ten months before the birth of defendant’s daughter, Serena, on December 1, 1999. DNA tests have confirmed plaintiff is Serena’s biological father.
In the circuit court below, Kathy M. Flanagan ruled that Irons conduct was not so extreme and outrageous to sustain a legal action by Phillips. That court was reversed after the appellate court ruled that Irons “deceitfully engaged in sexual acts, which no reasonable person would expect could result in pregnancy, to use plaintiff’s sperm in an unorthodox, unanticipated manner yielding extreme consequences.”
While ruling that the emotional distress claim could go forward, the court ruled that he could not allege theft because the sperm technically belonged to Dr. Irons. Phillips alleged that Irons committed “calculated, profound personal betrayal” when she used the sperm to produce offspring. He found out about the deception two years after the child was born and tests confirmed that he was the father after paternity tests. He was ordered to pay $800 a month in child support.
What is interesting is that it is intentional infliction of emotional distress as opposed to negligent infliction. To meet that standard, he must show (1) extreme and outrageous conduct; (2) intention to inflict severe emotional distress, or know that there is at least a high probability that it will cause severe emotional distress; and (3) severe emotional distress. The court found:
Under these circumstances, even if defendant intended to accomplish only conception and procreation, she knew there was at least a high probability that her manner of so doing would inflict severe emotional distress on plaintiff. According to plaintiff, defendant was aware of his desire to have children only after marriage. Further, plaintiff believed defendant could not become pregnant, not only due to the nature of the sexual acts, but because he believed she was infertile at the time as a result of her menstrual cycle. Months later, however, defendant informed plaintiff he fathered her child. From these facts, if proved, it may be inferred reasonably that defendant knew manipulating plaintiff into unwittingly conceiving a child out of wedlock would inflict severe emotional distress. Further, contrary to defendant’s assertion, plaintiff is not claiming the act of filing the paternity suit itself caused him severe emotional distress; it was the result of defendant’s actions in their entirety.
The court agreed with Irons that she could not be charged with conversion since “there was no agreement that the original deposit would be returned upon request, or where the transaction did not create a bailment, a claim for conversion cannot be sustained.”
I also found the court’s holding on fraudulent misrepresentation to be interesting. It rejected the claim because ‘the tort of fraudulent misrepresentation historically has been limited to cases involving business or financial transactions where plaintiff has suffered a pecuniary harm . . . it is an economic tort under which one may recover only monetary damages. Neurosurgery, 339 Ill. App. 3d at 186. Therefore, plaintiff may not recover on allegations of physical and emotional distress.” However, this fraud did cause financial harm given the paternity award against Phillips.
I also do not understand the basis for child support when the pregnancy was achieved artificially and without his consent or knowledge.
I have not been able to locate the current status of this case after the remand. The last published opinion was Phillips v. Irons, 354 Ill. App. 3d 1164, 2005 Ill. App. LEXIS 1807 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 2005)