In Jessica and Gerson Urbina vs. Tina Klinkose-Kyler, Laronda Southworth, and A Bond Of Life Adoptions, LLC. No. 06A01-1210-CT-464, the Court of Appeals in Indian issued an unpublished ruling on April 25, 2013, in a case involving the withholding of information by an adoption agency from a prospective adoptive couple from Canada. A lower Court had sided with the Adoption Agency, dismissing the case on a Motion to Dismiss, bringing the case before the Court of Appeals.
The Urbines had contracted with A Bond Of Life Adoptions through its Zionsville location, which is one of several locations through which the company conducts business under a variety of names in the states of Indian and Louisiana. The ruling explains what happened thereafter:
Ultimately, a prospective match was found with the unborn child of a woman in Indiana and things progressed to the point that the child was born. Several days after the child was born, and before the child left the hospital, the Urbinas were informed that the child might be addicted to drugs by virtue of the birth mother’s drug use during pregnancy. The Urbinas learned at the same time this information had been conveyed to ABLA several days before. Upon learning of the possibility of drug dependency, the Urbinas withdrew from the adoption process and filed the present lawsuit against ABLA, alleging multiple theories of recovery.
During the adoption screening and matching processes, the Urbinas indicated to ABLA in writing and verbally “that under no circumstances were they interested in being matched with a prospective birthmother who was abusing narcotics, alcohol, or other drugs.” The Urbinas were matched with a prospective birth mother in Noblesville, Indiana,a dn on February 2, 2012, the Urbinas were notified that the birth mother had gone to the hospital for the purpose of inducing labor.
At 8:30 a.m. on February 3, “a social worker involved in the adoption” informed ABLA that the baby was being monitored for withdrawal caused by the birth mother’s methadone use during pregnancy. When ABLA personnel met Ms. Urbine at the hospital, they did not inform her of the information communicated in the social worker’s call.
The Urbinas spent the weekend bonding with the baby, and learned on Monday morning that the birth mother used methadone during her pregnancy and that the baby was experiencing withdrawal. This information was conveyed in a phone call from a social worker, who also informed the Urbinas that the possibility of the birthmother’s withdrawal had been discussed with the adoption agency.
The Court of Appeals applied the basics of contract law in its ruling, explaing that: “When interpreting a contract, we give the language of the contract its plain and ordinary meaning. If a contract is ambiguous or its meaning uncertain, its construction is a matter for the fact-finder. We read the contract as a whole when determining the parties’ intent. The court will make every attempt to construe the contractual language such that no words, phrases, or terms are rendered ineffective or meaningless. We must accept an interpretation of the contract that harmonizes its provisions, versus one that causes its provisions to conflict.”
The Adoption agency argued that the contract insulated against such legal actions, but the Court disagreed, noting: “The foregoing release provision explicitly would shield ABLA from liability arising from a claim premised upon an unknown medical condition of the child, birth mother, or birth father. The question is, unknown to whom?”
The Court ruled: “The provision upon which ABLA relies would not shield ABLA from liability arising from a determination that ABLA wrongfully withheld information from the Urbinas.”
YOU GET IT – YOU PASS IT ON
Judge Bradford, in a concurring opinion, wrote: “While I fully concur with the majority’s disposition of this case, I write separately only to further emphasize what I consider the most significant holding of this case. I agree that the Agreement required ABLA to disclose to the Urbinas any relevant information gathered during the adoption process. In short, you get it–you pass it on. I also agree that the release in the Agreement does not cover nondisclosure and that it shields ABLA only from liability for any information that turns out to be incorrect. Quite simply, disclosure of incorrect information and nondisclosure are just not the same thing. Were we to accept ABLA’s argument on this point, it would render the disclosure requirement meaningless.”
A major part of the problem with adoptions continues to be that when adoption agencies do have relevant background information, they often refuse to pass it on to prospective adoptive parents.
Historically, child welfare agencies and their service providers have raised public policy concerns in their defense against claims of fraudulent concealment and fraud in adoption cases. In M. H. v. Caritas Family Services, service providers Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and Children’s Home Society of Minnesota joined the defendant as amicus curiae, arguing that the deliberate withholding of information about an adoptive child’s background makes for sound public policy. In Roe v. Catholic Charities, the defendants argued that disclosure of the requested information to the adoptive parents would have violated public policy evidenced by Illinois statutes. In Meracle v. Children’s Service Society, the defense argued that public policy precluded an action against an adoption agency for negligent misrepresentation. Similar arguments were raised in Michael J. v. Los Angeles County and in Mohr v. Commonwealth, a Massachusetts case in which Special Assistant Attorney General Owen Gallagher advanced the argument on behalf of the Commonwealth, and John T. Landry, III, Special Assistant Attorney General, argued the case on behalf of the social worker who was charged with misrepresentation and fraudulent concealment.
In Indiana, the A Bond Of Life Adoptions, LLC., operates under a number of names, including: Plainfield Adoption Agency, Anderson Adoption Agency, Avon Adoption Agency, Beech Grove Adoption Agency, Bloomington Adoption Agency, Brownsburg Adoption Agency, Carmel Adoption Agency, Columbus Adoption Agency, Crawfordsville Adoption Agency, Fishers Adoption Agency, Franklin Adoption Agency, Gary Adoption Agency, Greenfield Adoption Agency, Greenwood Adoption Agency, Hammond Adoption Agency, Indianapolis Adoption Agency, Kokomo Adoption Agency, Lafayette Adoption Agency, Lawrence Adoption Agency, Lebanon Adoption Agency, Marion Adoption Agency, Mooresville Adoption Agency, Muncie Adoption Agency, Noblesville Adoption Agency, Richmond Adoption Agency, Speedway Adoption Agency, Terre Haute Adoption Agency, West Lafayette Adoption Agency, Westfield Adoption Agency, and Zionsville Adoption Agency – the latter of which was the agency through which the Urbina family had contracted with the parent company A Bond Of Life Adoptions,
In Louisiana, the company conducts business under the names: Baker Adoption Agency, Baton Rouge Adoption Agency, Chalmette Adoption Agency, Covington Adoption Agency, Gretna Adoption Agency, LaPlace Adoption Agency, Harvey Adoption Agency, Mandeville Adoption Agency, Hammond Adoption Agency, Zachary Adoption Agency, New Iberia Adoption Agency, Kenner Adoption Agency, Terrytown Adoption Agency, Lafeyette Adoption Agency, New Orleans Adoption Agency, Metairie Adoption Agency, Houma Adoption Agency, Marrero Adoption Agency, Prairieville Adoption Agency, and Slidell Adoption Agency.