[The following summary was written by Michael Currie, a law clerk in Nyemaster Goode’s summer program.]
On June 1, 2012, the Iowa Supreme Court issued its decision in Dier v. Peters. In an opinion authored by Justice Mansfield, the court applied the common law elements of fraud to a claim of a man seeking reimbursement of monies paid to a woman in reliance on the woman’s representation that he was the biological father of the woman’s child. In so doing, the court essentially created a private cause of action for “paternity fraud”, an action never before recognized by an Iowa court.
The action was brought by Joseph Diers on August 2, 2011 after, in response to an application for custody of the child, a paternity test requested by Cassandra Peters revealed Diers was not the child’s biological father. The district court dismissed the claim on the basis that Dier had no cause of action against Peters, stating “the current status of the law demands that this case be dismissed.”
The Iowa Supreme Court reversed. In reaching its decision, the court applied the common law elements of fraud and found Dier’s claim to fit comfortably within the analysis. The court then discussed the public policy implications of allowing such an action and found the policy in favor of allowing paternity fraud claims (e.g. deterrence of lying, providing a remedy for fraud) outweighed the policy against the cause of action (e.g. “the threat to domestic tranquility”). The court remanded the case to the district court to decide the merits of the fraud claim.
Chief Justice Cady filed a separate concurrence to note the difficulties that come along with paternity fraud claims:
“In the end, it becomes painfully obvious that parties pushed into the justice system over a paternity fraud claim could never leave it unscathed, and the standards of justice will certainly be stretched to their limits, even if justice is attainable. . . . Yet, our precedent has not been for courts to decide whether it is prudent social policy to limit a common law cause of action for fraud simply because the facts present a difficult or complicated issue within the realm of otherwise normal legal framework. . . . [O]ur role is simply to determine whether the plaintiff has established a cause of action according to our rules of notice pleading. This approach, of course, does not mean we should ignore the reality that certain types of fraud cases carry collateral consequences that are sometimes difficult to swallow.”