Natural Mother's Ability to Sue for Damages After Adoption
Erik L. Smith
Doe v. Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 2006-Ohio-2221 (1st Dist.)
A woman's suit against an Archdiocese for allegedly coercing her into surrendering her child for adoption 40 years before was not barred by the statute of limitations.
In 1965, the natural mother, a minor and devout Catholic, allegedly conceived a child with her parish priest. The mother's complaint alleged the following: Throughout the pregnancy, a nun, who was also the mother's teacher, pressured the mother to surrender the child for adoption and to keep silent about the father's identity. The nun also told the mother that the child could never be baptized or cleansed of original sin absent adoption. The nun continuously told the mother that the pregnancy was solely the mother's fault for which adoption was a necessary penance. The priest in turn told the mother that she had to surrender the child for adoption because he would lose his priesthood if the church had to pay child support for 18 years. Heeding the priest and nun's words, the mother surrendered the child for adoption. Consequently, the mother allegedly suffered emotional and mental anguish for years.
The mother sued the Archdiocese for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, interference with familial relations, loss of consortium (loss of company and affection of family member), breach of fiduciary duty (breach of special trust relationship), and negligent supervision and retention (of employees). The trial court found the suit barred by the statute of limitations. The mother appealed, arguing that the doctrine of equitable estoppel defeated the statute of limitations defense.
Equitable estoppel applies where the defendant makes a misleading factual representation, inducing actual and reasonable reliance by, and causing detriment to, the relying party. In the statute of limitations context, the plaintiff must effectively allege that the defendant either misrepresented the limitations period, promised a better settlement of the claim should plaintiff not sue, or engaged in similar misleading conduct.