The unwed father could sue the unwed mother and her parents for intentional infliction of emotional distress and for conspiring to prevent the father from exercising his parental rights after the mother and her parents arranged a secret adoption.
The unwed, teenaged parents had dated for over a year when the mother became pregnant. The couple discussed their options regarding the baby, but made no decision at the time. The mother's parents, however, told the father that the child would be placed for adoption. The father's parents told the mother's parents that they did not want the child to be adopted and that they would take full responsibility for the child.
A month later, the mother told the father she wanted no more contact with him. The father then sought a declaration of paternity, a custody order, and an injunction to stop adoption proceedings in and outside of Mississippi. A temporary order restraining the commencement of adoption proceedings was served on the mother via her father The child was born five weeks later in Georgia and, unbeknownst to the unwed father, taken to California and adopted by Canadians.
The father and his parents sued the mother and her parents in Mississippi for intentional infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit because Mississippi did not recognize unwed fathers or grandparents as parents, and the mother was simply exercising her right to travel.
On appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the statute declaring an unwed father a non-parent unconstitutional as applied to the father because he had tried promptly to establish a substantial relationship with the child. The question remained as to whether the mother and her family could be liable for the father's emotional distress and for conspiracy. The mother argued that she could not be liable because she was exercising her right to surrender the child for adoption, just like she would have been entitled to have an abortion.
The court rejected the argument, reasoning that once the mother decided to carry the child to term, the father's constitutional rights became viable. The father could then sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress because the maternal family acted intentionally and could foresee that their actions would render the father unable to veto the adoption. In turn, they could foresee that this would cause the father, who had promptly preserved his parental rights, to suffer emotional distress due to the child he wanted being placed secretly for adoption.
The father could also sue for conspiracy because a restraining order existed and the maternal family had arguably worked together to violate it, which would deprive the father of his rights.
The court also rejected the right of travel rationale because a party could be held accountable when they exercised a constitutional right in a way that unlawfully damaged others The paternal grandparents, however, had no standing to sue because they were not parents. The help they gave their son was gratuitous.
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