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Atkinson v. Hall

    Brief Fact Summary. The plaintiff, Julie Atkinson (the “plaintiff”), sued the defendant, Robert Hall (the “defendant”), to collect child support. The defendant contended the child was not his, but the plaintiff submitted a blood test that showed the defendant had a 98.27 percent chance of being the father. The jury unanimously found for the defendant.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. If two conflicting presumptions exist, a court should apply the one that is the strongest after considering policy and logic, or disregard both if there is no determination that one prevails over the other.

    Facts. The defendant dated the plaintiff off and on from December 1970 until October 1971. They went to Connecticut together in September 1971 and engaged in sexual intercourse. The defendant soon returned to Maine and did not see the plaintiff until she visited him in jail. He testified that during the visit the plaintiff told him she was going to marry Gerald Marshall (“Mr. Marshall”), and she was pregnant with Mr. Marshall’s child. The plaintiff testified that she was pregnant with the plaintiff’s child and told him so during the visit. The child was born on July 20, 1972, and the name on his birth certificate was Jay Alan Marshall. Mr. Marshall was listed as the father on the birth certificate, and a certificate of baptism also listed Mr. Marshall as the father. The plaintiff and Mr. Marshall were divorced five to eight months after the child’s birth. The divorce decree required Mr. Marshall to pay child support, of which he made one payment. The size and weight of the c
    hild were consistent with Mr. Marshall being the father. Blood tests submitted to the jury showed a probability of 98.27 percent that the defendant was the father. A blood test was not conducted on Mr. Marshall. The plaintiff sued the defendant seeking child support. The plaintiff requested a jury instruction that the defendant’s blood test raised a presumption of paternity that could be rebutted only by clear and convincing evidence. The defendant sought an instruction that because the child was born to the plaintiff while she was lawfully married to Mr. Marshall, the plaintiff had the burden of producing evidence, and persuading the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the child was not Mr. Marshall’s. The trial court disregarded both presumptions and instructed the jury that the plaintiff had the burden of proving her case by a preponderance of the evidence. The jury unanimously found for the defendant.

    Issue. Was the plaintiff prejudiced when the district court instructed the jury to decide the case by a preponderance of the evidence, instead of giving a paternity presumption instruction for the plaintiff?

    Held. Justice Hornby issued the opinion of the Supreme Court of Maine and affirmed the judgment finding that the plaintiff was not entitled to a paternity presumption instruction over a legitimacy presumption, and she was not prejudiced.

    Discussion. Weighing both logic and policy, the Supreme Court of Maine found that the paternity presumption was not stronger than the legitimacy presumption. Further, the jury was allowed to consider all the evidence regarding the plaintiff’s relationship with both men, and about the child.


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