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M.D. v. R.W.

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

September 27, 2018

M.D., Appellant,
R.W., Appellee, and L.P., Appellant,
M.D., Appellee.

          Submitted June 25, 2018

          Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (PCS-2050-2003) (RSR-1525-2010) (Hon. Rahkel Bouchet, Motion Judge) (Hon. Julie H. Becker, Reviewing Associate Judge)

          Amee Vora, Stephanie Troyer, and Jonathan H. Levy, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, were on the brief for appellant M.D. in appeal No. 17-FM-588.

          Edward G. Varrone was on the brief for appellant L.P. in appeal No. 17-FM-589.

          Amee Vora, Stephanie Troyer, Jonathan H. Levy, and David Carpman, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, were on the brief for appellee M.D. in appeal No. 17-FM-589.

          Before Fisher, Thompson, and Beckwith, Associate Judges.

          Per Curiam

         In Appeal No. 17-FM-588, appellant M.D. seeks review of (1) a March 15, 2017, order by an Associate Judge of the Superior Court upholding the October 14, 2016, order by a Magistrate Judge in Case No. 2003-PCS-2050 (the "paternity disestablishment case") denying a Super. Ct. Dom. Rel. R. 60 (b)(6) motion for relief from an adjudication of paternity, and (2) a May 1, 2017, order by the Associate Judge denying M.D.'s motion to amend the March 15, 2017, judgment. In Appeal No. 17-FM-589, appellant L.P. seeks reversal of the Associate Judge's separate May 1, 2017, order denying L.P.'s motion to intervene in the paternity disestablishment case. We hereby sua sponte consolidate the appeals. For the reasons that follow, in Appeal No. 17-FM-588, we reverse and remand for further proceedings. In Appeal No. 17-FM-589, we reverse and instruct that L.P. be permitted to intervene in the paternity disestablishment case.


         In 2003, M.D. gave birth to a daughter ("minor child" or "child") in the District of Columbia. During the month or so surrounding the child's conception, M.D. was involved in sexual relationships with appellee R.W. and with L.P. On October 24, 2003, based on M.D.'s receipt of public benefits, the District of Columbia filed a petition to establish paternity and provide support for the minor child, naming R.W. as the putative father. R.W. waived his right to genetic testing, and on April 14, 2004, the Superior Court entered an Adjudication of Paternity, i.e., an order adjudicating him the father of the minor child. The Adjudication of Paternity was signed by R.W. but not by M.D. The Superior Court entered a consent order dismissing the petition upon information that M.D. and R.W. had entered into a private agreement regarding child support.

         Subsequently, M.D. (who at some point had moved to Maryland) and R.W. became involved in a paternity/child support proceeding in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland. On June 10, 2008, the Maryland court dismissed the matter for want of prosecution upon ordering, on the basis of genetic testing, that R.W. "is excluded as the natural father of the minor child." On December 3, 2009, M.D. filed a petition in the Superior Court to amend the child's birth certificate by removing R.W.'s name.[1] The Superior Court judge, apparently unaware of the Adjudication of Paternity, granted the application the same day, on the ground that R.W. "is not the natural father" of the child. M.D. asserts that she "believed that she had [thereby] completed all that was needed to sever any legal ties between [R.W.] and [the child]."[2]

         On June 22, 2010, while M.D. still resided in Maryland, the District of Columbia filed an interstate uniform support petition against L.P. to establish paternity and to collect child support, attaching M.D.'s affidavit alleging that L.P. is the biological father of the minor child. L.P. argued in opposition to the petition that the court could not establish his paternity because R.W. had been adjudged the father of the child. The District of Columbia and L.P. then filed a joint stipulation of dismissal. M.D. asserts that she did not receive notice of the hearings in the case, was not present for any of the proceedings, and was not involved in the stipulation of dismissal.

         On January 5, 2016, after M.D. had moved back to the District, had begun receiving TANF benefits, and had assigned to the District of Columbia her right to collect child support, the District of Columbia filed a motion to reinstate and consolidate the cases involving R.W. and L.P. and to establish paternity for the child. The District asked the court to vacate the April 14, 2004, Adjudication of Paternity, arguing that vacatur was warranted because "there are conflicting orders regarding the paternity of the [m]inor [c]hild," with the result that "the minor child is essentially stripped of her right to seek support, as [R.W.] was adjudicated by one court to be the father of the minor child, and subsequently excluded by another court as the father of the same minor child." The District noted that L.P. had "objected to both formal and informal actions seeking to determine his biological connection to the minor child[] due to [R.W.'s] prior adjudication of paternity." The District also requested "leave to seek the establishment of paternity and child support from [L.P.]" The District of Columbia later withdrew from both cases, citing a "positional conflict," and the court granted M.D.'s motion to proceed in the cases on her own behalf (and with the aid of counsel) to establish paternity.

         During a hearing on July 14, 2016, the court (Magistrate Judge Bouchet) stated from the bench that it would dismiss the case against L.P. because "paternity ha[d] been established [in 2004]." The court stated that it would still hold a hearing scheduled for September 13, 2016, in the case against R.W., but expected that its decision would be the same. Before that scheduled hearing, L.P. filed a motion to intervene in the case against R.W. in order to "protect his interests," to take an adversarial stance with respect to M.D.'s and R.W.'s desire to vacate the 2004 judgment of paternity, and to avoid the potential for inconsistent rulings.

         At the September 13, 2016, hearing in the case against R.W., the court said that it would dismiss that case as well. In an October 14, 2016, written order (entered in the docket in both cases), the court formally dismissed both cases, denied the motion to reinstate and consolidate, declined to order genetic testing of L.P., and denied the motion to disestablish paternity (which the court treated as a motion under Super. Ct. Dom. Rel. R. 60 (b)) on the grounds that neither M.D. nor R.W. had acted with diligence and expedience and that the record revealed no extraordinary circumstances that justified their delay in seeking to vacate the Adjudication of Paternity.

         M.D. sought review of the October 14, 2016, Magistrate Judge's order by an Associate Judge. Before the Associate Judge, L.P. renewed his motion to intervene (on which the Magistrate Judge had not ruled), asked the court to consolidate the cases, and later filed a ...

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