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Burr v. Board of County Commissioners of Stark County

Supreme Court of Ohio
491 N.E.2d 1101 (1986)


Facts

Russel and Betty Burr (plaintiffs) adopted a 17-month-old baby, Patrick, from the Stark County Welfare Department (defendant). Caseworker Winifred Schaub (defendant) told the Burrs that Patrick was a nice, big, healthy baby, born at the city hospital to an unwed teenage mother who lived with her parents. According to Schaub, Patrick’s grandparents were mean to him and his mother unable to care for him, so she planned to move away for better employment and voluntarily placed Patrick for adoption. In reality, a 31-year-old mental patient with low IQ, mental deficiencies, and psychosis gave birth to Patrick at the state mental hospital, with the father unidentified but assumed to be another patient. In addition, Patrick suffered a fever at birth. That medical profile and parental history gave Patrick an increased risk of developing Huntington’s disease. The adoption division knew Patrick was developing slowly, had test records indicating low intelligence and risk of disease, and had placed him in two foster homes before the Burrs adopted him. By high school, Patrick developed a myriad of physical and mental problems eventually diagnosed as Huntington’s, with a life expectancy of eight-and-a-half years when developed in childhood. During his treatment the Burrs obtained a court order opening Patrick’s sealed adoption records, then sued the Board of County Commissioners of Stark County, the welfare department and its director, Logan Burd, and Schaub (defendants). The Burrs sought medical expenses exceeding $80,000 and damages for fraudulent “wrongful adoption.” The jury returned a $125,000 verdict for the Burrs that was affirmed on appeal, prompting a further appeal to the state supreme court.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Celebrezze, C.J.)

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