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Partanen v. Gallagher

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

October 4, 2016

KAREN PARTANEN
v.
JULIE GALLAGHER.

          Heard: April 5, 2016.

         A motion to dismiss was heard by Jeffrey A. Abber, J.

         The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

          Mary Lisa Bonauto (Elizabeth A. Roberts, Teresa Harkins La Vita, Patience Crozier, & Joyce Kauffman with her) for the plaintiff.

          Jennifer M. Lamanna for the defendant.

         The following submitted briefs for amicus curiae:

          C. Thomas Brown for Greater Boston Legal Services & others.

          Emily R. Shulman, Brook Hopkins, & Adam M Cambier for American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys & others.

          Abigail Taylor, Gail Garinger, Brittany Williams, & Andrea C. Kramer, Assistant Attorneys General, for the Attorney General.

          Shannon Minter, of California, Marco J. Quina, & Emma S. Winer for forty-two law professors & another.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Duffly, Lenk, & Hines, JJ.[1]

          LENK, J.

         In 2014, the plaintiff, Karen Partanen, filed a complaint in the Probate and Family Court seeking to establish legal parentage of two young children. The complaint alleged that she and the defendant, Julie Gallagher, had been in a committed, nonmarital relationship between 2001 and 2013. Using in vitro fertilization, and with Partanen's "full acknowledgment, participation, and consent, " Gallagher gave birth to the two children. Thereafter, Partanen and Gallagher represented themselves publicly as the children's parents, and jointly raised the children until their 2013 separation. On the basis of these allegations, Partanen's complaint sought a declaration of parentage pursuant to, among other things, G. L. c. 209C, § 6 (a.) (4) . That statute provides that "a man is presumed to be the father of a child" born out of wedlock if "he, jointly with the mother, received the child into their home and openly held out the child as their child." Concluding that Partanen could not be deemed a presumed parent under G. L. c. 209C, § 6 (a.) (4), because it was undisputed that she was not the children's biological parent, a judge of the Probate and Family Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Mass. R. Dom. Rel. P. 12 (b) (6) .

         In addressing Partanen's claims on direct appellate review, we consider the question whether a person may establish herself as a child's presumptive parent under G. L. c. 209C, § 6 (a.) (4), in the absence of a biological relationship with the child. We conclude that she may. We conclude further that, here, the assertions in Partanen's complaint are sufficient to state a claim of parentage under G. L. c. 209C (statute). Therefore, we reverse the judgment of dismissal and remand the matter to the Probate and Family Court for further proceedings.[2]

         1. Background.

         The facts are largely undisputed. The following facts are drawn from the complaint, which we take as true in reviewing a dismissal under Mass. R. Dom. Rel. P. 12(b)(6), with certain minor, undisputed details drawn from elsewhere in the record. See Schaer v. Brandeis Univ., 432 Mass. 474, 477 (2000).

         In February, 2001, while they were both living in Massachusetts, Partanen and Gallagher entered into a committed relationship. They moved to Florida in 2002, and, the following year, together purchased a house there. In 2005, they decided to start a family "with the shared intention that they would both be parents to the resulting children." That year, Partanen unsuccessfully underwent fertility treatment using a sperm donor and in vitro fertilization. In 2007, Gallagher underwent similar treatment "with the full acknowledgment, participation, and consent of" Partanen. This treatment was successful, and, with Partanen present, Gallagher gave birth to a daughter, Jo.[3]In 2011, Gallagher again underwent fertility treatment, "with the full acknowledgment, participation, and consent of" Partanen.[4] The treatment was successful, and, in 2012, Gallagher gave birth to a son, Ja.

         Though Partanen did not formally adopt the children, [5] she participated in raising them from the time of their birth. Her participation included "waking for night-time feedings, bathing, meal preparation, grocery shopping, transportation to/from day care and school, staying home with the children during times of illness, clothes shopping, providing appropriate discipline as necessary, addressing their developmental needs, [and] comforting" them. Partanen was involved also "in all decisionmaking for the children, " including in matters related to their education and healthcare. Partanen "provided [the children] consistent financial support, " and both children referred to Partanen as "Mommy." Partanen and Gallagher represented themselves publicly as the children's parents in formal contexts such as at the children's schools and for medical appointments, as well as in their interactions with friends and family. They vacationed as a family, shared expenses, purchased joint assets, and sent family holiday cards.

         In May, 2012, after the birth of Ja, Partanen and Gallagher returned to Massachusetts with the children.[6] In November, 2013, the couple separated, and Partanen moved out of the family home. Partanen filed an action to establish de facto parentage in February, 2014. She requested visitation with the children and shared legal custody. In September, 2015, a judge of the Probate and Family Court ruled that Partanen was a de facto parent of the children, issued orders regarding visitation, and required her to pay child support.[7]

         In October, 2014, Partanen filed the present action in the Probate and Family Court "to establish [full legal] parentage."[8]In February, 2015, Gallagher's motion to dismiss the complaint for "[f]ailure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, " Mass. R. Dom. Rel. P. 12(b)(6), was allowed.

         2. Discussion.

         a. Standa ...


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