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Wyatt v. McDermott

Supreme Court of Virginia
725 S.E.2d 555 (Va. 2012)


Facts

John Wyatt (plaintiff) and Colleen Fahland (defendant), an unmarried couple, had an intimate relationship that resulted in Fahland’s pregnancy. Wyatt and Fahland planned to raise their child together. However, Fahland’s parents (defendants) contacted Mark McDermott (defendant), a lawyer, to facilitate the adoption of the child. At McDermott’s urging, Fahland falsely signed a number of documents, including those in which Fahland stated that she did not know Wyatt’s address. Fahland purposefully kept Wyatt in the dark regarding her plans to give their child up for adoption. Instead, Fahland continued to assure Wyatt that they would raise the child together. McDermott contacted a Utah adoption agency (defendant) and another lawyer, Larry Jenkins (defendant), to find prospective adoptive parents. Subsequently, Fahland gave birth to a daughter, E.Z., who was adopted by Utah residents Thomas and Chandra Zarembinski (defendants). Wyatt was not informed of E.Z.’s birth. After learning of the adoption, Wyatt filed a petition seeking custody of E.Z. The custody battle was still ongoing when Wyatt filed suit in federal district court against the defendants, seeking: (1) custody of E.Z., (2) compensatory and punitive damages for E.Z.’s unauthorized adoption, (3) a declaratory judgment under the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980 (the Act) that Virginia possessed jurisdiction to award custody of E.Z., and (4) tortious interference with parental rights. The district court dismissed the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint on most of the claims, except for the claim for tortious interference, pending a determination by the Supreme Court of Virginia that the state recognized such a cause of action.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Millette, J.)

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Dissent (McClanahan, J.)

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