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In re Thomas T. (Anonymous)

Supreme Court of New York, Second Department

March 15, 2017

In the Matter of Thomas T. (Anonymous), appellant,
v.
Luba R. (Anonymous), et al., respondents. Docket No. P-17987-11

          John C. Macklin, New Hyde Park, NY, for appellant.

          Stewart N. Altman, Mineola, NY, for respondent Luba R.

          Salvatore C. Adamo, New York, NY, for respondent Gaston R.

          Mark Brandys, New York, NY, attorney for the child.

          REINALDO E. RIVERA, J.P., L. PRISCILLA HALL, SHERI S. ROMAN, VALERIE BRATHWAITE NELSON, JJ.

          DECISION & ORDER

         Appeal by the petitioner from an order of the Family Court, Queens County (Mary R. O'Donoghue, J.), dated January 11, 2016. The order, after a hearing, dismissed the petition seeking to declare the petitioner the father of the subject child.

         ORDERED that the order is affirmed, without costs or disbursements.

         The petitioner commenced this proceeding pursuant to Family Court Act article 5 to establish his paternity with respect to the subject child. After a hearing, the Family Court determined that the petitioner was equitably estopped from claiming paternity with respect to the child and thereupon dismissed the petition. The petitioner appeals.

         "The purpose of equitable estoppel is to prevent someone from enforcing rights that would work injustice on the person against whom enforcement is sought and who, while justifiably relying on the opposing party's actions, has been misled into a detrimental change of position'" (Matter of Derrick H. v Martha J., 82 A.D.3d 1236, 1238, quoting Matter of Shondel J. v Mark D., 7 N.Y.3d 320, 326). "[T]he doctrine has been used to prevent a biological father from asserting paternity rights when it would be detrimental to the child's interests to disrupt the child's close relationship with another father figure" (Matter of Juanita A. v Kenneth Mark N., 15 N.Y.3d 1, 6). "The doctrine in this way protects the status interests of a child in an already recognized and operative parent-child relationship" (Matter of Felix M. v Leonarda R.C., 118 A.D.3d 886, 886 [internal quotation marks omitted]). "[T]he issue does not involve the equities between the two adults; the case turns exclusively on the best interests of the child" (Matter of Shondel J. v Mark D., 7 N.Y.3d at 330). Thus, the doctrine of equitable estoppel will be applied only where its use furthers the best interests of the child (see Matter of Charles v Charles, 296 A.D.2d 547, 549).

         The Family Court properly applied the doctrine of equitable estoppel to preclude the petitioner from asserting his paternity claim with respect to the subject child. The evidence at a hearing established that the respondent Gaston R. has established a strong father-daughter relationship with the child. The child has referred to Gaston R. as "daddy" since she was 18 months old and continues to view him as the only father figure in her life. In contrast, the petitioner learned, shortly after the child's birth, that he was the child's biological father. Nevertheless, he did not commence the instant paternity proceeding until the child was four years old. The petitioner has not had a parent-child relationship with the child for several years, and the child no longer recognizes the petitioner's name. Under these circumstances, the court properly determined that it was in the child's best interests to equitably estop the petitioner from asserting his paternity claim (see Matter of Richard A.M. v Alejandra H., 123 A.D.3d 1129, 1129-1130; Matter of Rason S.B. v Alexis H., 101 A.D.3d 710, 711; Matter of Antonio H. v Angelic W., 51 A.D.3d 1022, 1023; Matter of Greg S. v Keri C., 38 A.D.3d 905, 905).

         Contrary to the petitioner's contention, this Court's determination on a prior appeal, which, inter alia, reinstated his paternity petition, did not preclude the Family Court from considering the doctrine of equitable estoppel upon remittal (see Matter of Thomas T. [Luba R.], 121 A.D.3d 800). Moreover, the petitioner's contention that application of the doctrine of equitable estoppel was barred by the doctrine of unclean hands is without merit (see Matter of Shondel J. v Mark D., 7 N.Y.3d at 330; Matter of Felix O. v Janette M., 89 A.D.3d 1089, 1090).

         The petitioner's remaining contentions are without merit.

          RIVERA, J.P., HALL, ROMAN and ...


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