In the Matter of Suffolk County Department of Social Services, on behalf of Christopher C. (Anonymous), appellant,
James D. (Anonymous), Jr., respondent. Docket No. P-18204-15
M. Brown, County Attorney, Central Islip, NY (Paul J. Lipsky
and Christina E. Farrell of counsel), for appellant.
Laurette Mulry, Central Islip, NY (Kim E. Nohilly of
counsel), for respondent.
Theresa A. Mari, Hauppauge, NY, attorney for the child.
PRISCILLA HALL, J.P., ROBERT J. MILLER, FRANCESCA E.
CONNOLLY, VALERIE BRATHWAITE NELSON, JJ.
DECISION & ORDER
by the petitioner from an order of the Family Court, Suffolk
County (Richard Hoffman, J.), dated March 25, 2016. The
order, upon a determination of that court dated March 24,
2016, in effect, denying the petitioner's application for
DNA testing, without a hearing, dismissed the petition for
failure to state a cause of action.
that the order is reversed, on the law, without costs or
disbursements, the petition is reinstated, the determination
denying the petitioner's application for DNA testing is
vacated, and the matter is remitted to the Family Court,
Suffolk County, for further proceedings in accordance
Suffolk County Department of Social Services (hereinafter the
County) commenced this paternity proceeding against James D.
(hereinafter the putative father), when the subject child was
almost 16 years old. The County thereafter made an
application for DNA testing to establish the putative
father's paternity. The putative father opposed the
County's application, raising equitable estoppel as a
defense. The Family Court, without holding a hearing, in
effect, denied the County's application for DNA testing.
Thereafter, in the order appealed from, the court dismissed
the petition on the ground that it did not state a cause of
action. The County appeals. We reverse.
proceedings, brought pursuant to article 5 of the Family
Court Act, have a twofold purpose: to determine paternity and
to secure support for the child" (Matter of
Department of Social Servs. v Jay W., 105 A.D.2d 19,
23). "Although at one time the objective of paternity
proceedings was merely to prevent a child born out of wedlock
from becoming a public charge, it is now well established
that the appropriate emphasis must be upon the welfare of the
child" (Matter of L. Pamela P. v Frank S., 59
N.Y.2d 1, 5). "Nonetheless, article 5 of the Family
Court Act still retains as an objective the protection of the
public from bearing the cost of supporting... children where
there exists a viable, legally obligated source of
support" (Matter of Department of Social Servs. v
Jay W., 105 A.D.2d at 24). Accordingly, "section
522 of the Family Court Act provides that, among other
persons, a public welfare official of the county, city or
town where the mother resides, or the child is found, may
originate such proceedings, if the mother or child is or is
likely to become a public charge'" (id.,
quoting Family Ct Act § 522).
party in a paternity proceeding that is "seeking to
prove paternity... must do so by clear and convincing
evidence" (Matter of Commissioner of Social Servs. v
Julio J., 20 N.Y.3d 995, 997). The Family Court,
"on the court's own motion or the motion of any
party, shall order the mother, her child and the alleged
father to submit to one or more genetic marker or DNA
tests... to aid in the determination of whether the alleged
father is or is not the father of the child" (Family Ct
Act § 532[a]). "No such test shall be ordered,
however, upon a written finding by the court that it is not
in the best interests of the child on the basis of...
equitable estoppel" (id.; see Matter of
Marilene S. v David H., 85 A.D.3d 1035, 1035-1036).
providing a limited "best interests of the child"
exception to mandatory biological tests of disputed
paternity, Family Court Act § 532 requires the Family
Court to justify its refusal to order biological tests when
paternity is in issue (Family Ct Act § 532[a];
accord Matter of Shondel J. v Mark D., 7 N.Y.3d 320,
329; cf. Family Ct Act § 418[a]). "Where a
party to a paternity proceeding raises an issue of equitable
estoppel, that issue must be resolved before any biological
testing is ordered" (Matter of Marilene S. v David
H., 85 A.D.3d at 1036).
context, courts generally "impose equitable estoppel to
protect the status interests of a child in an already
recognized and operative parent-child relationship"
(Matter of Baby Boy C., 84 N.Y.2d 91, 102 n; see
Matter of Shondel J. v Mark D., 7 N.Y.3d at 327).
Accordingly, the doctrine of equitable estoppel may be used
by a purported biological father to prevent an adverse party
from asserting that he is the biological father where the
child has developed a close relationship with another father
figure such that it would be detrimental to the child's
interests to disrupt that relationship (accord Matter of
Juanita A. v Kenneth Mark N., 15 N.Y.3d 1, 6). Under
such circumstances, in order to be entitled to a hearing on
the issue of whether equitable estoppel should be applied, a
putative father must raise an issue of fact as to whether
"a determination that he is in fact the father would
disturb any relationship the child[ ] may have had with any
other father figure" (Matter of Ruby M.M. v Moses
K., 18 A.D.3d 471, 472; see Matter of Marilene S. v
David H., 85 A.D.3d at 1036; see also Matter of
Commissioner of Social Servs., Suffolk County DSS v
Connolly, 303 A.D.2d 754). "[W]hether it is being
used in the offensive posture to enforce rights or the
defensive posture to prevent rights from being enforced,
equitable estoppel is only to be used to protect the best
interests of the child" (Matter of Juanita A. v
Kenneth Mark N., 15 N.Y.3d at 6; see Matter of
Commissioner of Social Servs. v Julio J., 20 N.Y.3d at
997; Matter of Shondel J. v Mark D., 7 N.Y.3d at
326; Matter of Ruby M.M. v Moses K., 18 A.D.3d at
the Family Court erred in dismissing the petition on the
ground that it failed to state a cause of action. Assuming
the truth of the allegations in the petition, and according
the County the benefit of every favorable inference (see
Leon v Martinez, 84 N.Y.2d 83, 87-88), the facts alleged
are sufficient to satisfy the pleading requirements of a
proceeding to establish the paternity of the child and to
compel support (see Family Ct Act § 523).
Family Court further erred to the extent that it based its
order dismissing the petition on its prior determination, in
effect, denying the County's application for DNA testing.
The Family Court should not have summarily denied the
County's application without first requiring the putative
father to raise an issue of fact with respect to his defense
of equitable estoppel (see Matter of Marilene S. v David
H., 85 A.D.3d at 1036; Matter of Ruby M.M. v Moses
K., 18 A.D.3d at 472; see also Matter of
Commissioner of Social Servs., Suffolk County DSS v
Connolly, 303 A.D.2d 754).
under the circumstances, we reverse the order appealed from,
reinstate the petition, vacate the determination denying the
County's application for DNA testing, and remit the
matter for further proceedings, including a new determination
of the County's application for DNA testing, to be made