Child Has Claims Against a Bad Dad; Anonymous Physician 1 v. White

This case involves an unusual situation—a child suing his father for impregnating his mother. These kinds of lawsuits are normally not allowed because Indiana does not recognize a claim for wrongful life. But the situation is different when the father is a physician who lied to the mother about her artificial insemination.

Elizabeth sought the services of Appellants in 1981 to become pregnant. The Physician told Elizabeth that he would artificially inseminate her with donor sperm from an anonymous medical school resident and that he would use that donor’s sperm in no more than three inseminations within a well-defined geographic area. This was a lie—he used his own sperm to do the insemination, as he had done with many other patients. Elizabeth gave birth to Matthew in 1982.

Elizabeth and Matthew learned of Physician’s lie in September 2016, filed a proposed medical malpractice complaint in November 2016 with the Indiana Department of Insurance, and filed a joint complaint in December 2016 in the Marion Superior Court. Matthew alleged claims for breach of contract, medical malpractice, and negligent hiring
and retention.

Appellants moved to dismiss Matthew’s complaint for three reasons: (1) he had not sufficiently pleaded that he was a third-party beneficiary of the contract with Elizabeth; (2) they owed no duty of care to Matthew; and (3) Matthew did not have any compensable injuries. The trial court denied that motion, and Matthew appealed.

On appeal, the Court first dealt with the breach of contract claim, which focused on whether Matthew was a third-party beneficiary of the contract between Elizabeth and Appellants. And it found that Matthew sufficiently pleaded this issue because he pled the following:

(1) the contract between Elizabeth and Appellants “was intended to provide [Matthew] the direct benefit of life and/or existence[;]” (2) the contract “imposed a duty on at least one of the parties thereto in favor of [Matthew;]” and (3) “performance of the terms of the contract necessarily rendered a number of tangible direct benefits to [Matthew], including his
conception; intrauterine development; birth; and life as a human being.”

These allegations tracked the elements necessary to prove that someone is a third-party beneficiary and passed muster for the purposes of Rule 12(B)(6).

The Court next turned to the question of whether Appellants owed Matthew a duty for the purposes of his tort claims. In deciding this question, the Court looked to Walker v. Rinck, 604 N.E.2d 591 (Ind. 1992), which held that a physician had a duty to properly test a mother’s Rh status to a mother’s unconceived children, so that they did not suffer birth defects. The Court found that Matthew’s situation was similar because of “the risk of accidental incest resulting from many closely biologically related individuals living near each other and unaware of their biological relationships.”

Finally, the Court addressed whether Matthew had any compensable injuries. Appellants argued that his claim was for wrongful life, which is not recognized in Indiana. But the Court applied a more nuanced approach, noting that Matthew claimed
he was seeking damages for things other than just his life. And that was sufficient for the purposes of Rule 12(B)(6).

Here, because Matthew has stated a damages claim for which relief can be granted and placed Appellants on notice as to why he sues, Appellants may “flesh out” specific evidentiary facts regarding Matthew’s damages through the discovery process. Whether Matthew can prevail on a claim for emotional distress damages will depend on those facts.

Thus, the trial court properly denied the motion to dismiss, and Matthew can continue to pursue the doctor and practice that resulted in his birth.
Lessons:
1. A child born with the assistance of a fertility clinic has standing to assert claims for breach of contract as a third-party beneficiary of his parent’s contract with the clinic.
2. The Court expressed a very high bar for a 12(B)(6) dismissal: “[B]ecause it does not appear to a certainty on the face of the complaint that Matthew is not entitled to relief, a dismissal of Matthew’s complaint would have been improper.”
3. The Court confirmed by footnote the following: “[W]hen evaluating the merits of an Ind. Trial Rule 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss, the court is prohibited from hearing any evidence and may look only to the facts alleged in the complaint.”

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