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People Ex Rel. Buell v. Bell

JANUARY 12, 1959.




Writ of Error to the Circuit Court of Rock Island county; the Hon. DAN H. McNEAL, Judge, presiding. Affirmed.


This is a review by the respondents, Claire Jordan and Juanita Jordan, by way of Writ of Error of an order entered by the Circuit Court of Rock Island County, after a hearing on a habeas corpus petition filed by Beulah M. Buell, the mother of Baby Girl Buell, a minor. The finding of the trial court was that the petitioner, Beulah M. Buell, was entitled to the care, custody, and control of Baby Girl Buell, born April 10, 1958, and that the respondents had no legal right to the custody of the child. The order directed the respondents to deliver the child to the petitioner. The order was complied with in open court and the writ discharged.

The petition for writ of habeas corpus, filed May 15, 1958, alleged, in substance, that the petitioner was the mother of the minor child born in the Community General Hospital, Sterling, Illinois, on April 10, 1958; the name of the father was legally omitted in the birth certificate; and the plaintiff is divorced and not remarried. The petitioner further alleged that she has a home for herself and her four other minor children living with her in Rock Falls, Whiteside County, Illinois; on July 1, 1957 she was divorced from her husband, Creighton Buell; in December, 1957, her ex-husband, Creighton Buell, knowing that she was expecting a child, told her that she would lose the other children because of this birth, he knew where this child could be placed for adoption, and he indicated that his employer in Rock Island would be interested in having the child. She further alleged that she went to the hospital under the care of Dr. Dora Zaeske, on April 9, 1958, where she was under a doctor's care for nine hours, and a child was born on April 10, 1958, at 8:26 a.m.; on April 12, the lawyer from Rock Island came in with another woman, whom she could not identify, with some papers and asked her to sign them, but these papers were not explained to her nor did she read them, but she did sign them; because of the fact the child was illegitimate and her present children were living with her and receiving aid from the State of Illinois, she was induced to giving up the child that was to be born because she was told that she could not keep the other children if she tried to raise the illegitimate child; she alleged that she was under sedation and incapable of knowing what papers were being thrust upon her for her signature; she had no knowledge of the contents or the legal effect of those papers; and the child was handed by the petitioner to Robert M. Bell, who, in turn, delivered the child to Claire Jordan and Juanita Jordan.

Robert M. Bell was dismissed as one of the respondents. The return of the other respondents, Claire Jordan and Juanita Jordan, so far as now material, admitted they had the custody of Baby Girl Buell, and they had had the custody since April 14, 1958. They further alleged that Baby Girl Buell was delivered to them by the petitioner for the purpose of adoption; Beulah M. Buell signed the consent to adoption; Claire Jordan had been appointed guardian of the person of Baby Girl Buell by the Probate Court of Rock Island County, and they asked that the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus be dismissed.

The Circuit Court made certain findings, among which are: that the purported appearance and consent for adoption was not the voluntary act or deed of the petitioner; the same was procured from the petitioner by the false and fraudulent representations of Creighton Buell and the respondents' doctor, Dora Zaeske, and while she was under the influence of drugs administered by the doctor; the purported consent had never been acted upon by any court of competent jurisdiction, and was invalid, null and void; and the petitioner did not abandon her child when she handed her to the respondents' attorney, but that her act was under the compulsion and duress of respondents' doctor and done solely to obtain her release from the hospital.

The theory of the respondents, plaintiffs in error, to the extent it is urged in their points and authorities, and argument, is that the consent to adoption executed by Beulah M. Buell is irrevocable and in full compliance with the statute; the trial court's findings that the consent to adoption was obtained by fraud, or duress, are contrary to the law and against the manifest weight of the evidence; and the trial court's finding that the consent to adoption was executed at a time when the mother was under the effect of drugs and medicines is contrary to the weight of the evidence.

Section 3-7 of the Adoption Act of 1945, which section in its present form was enacted in 1953 and subsequently amended in 1957, Ch. 4, Ill. Rev. Stats., 1957, par. 3-7, states:

"A consent to adoption or a surrender to a licensed child welfare agency for the purpose of adoption by a parent or parents including any who are minors executed and witnessed or acknowledged in accordance with the provisions of Section 3-6 of this Act shall be irrevocable unless it shall have been obtained by fraud or duress and a court of competent jurisdiction shall so find. The consent of a parent who is a minor shall not be voidable because of such minority."

The issue that is presented to this Court is whether the findings of the trial court on the questions of fact as to fraud and duress are or are not against the manifest weight of the evidence. Testifying for the petitioner was the petitioner herself; Lila McGava, a licensed practical nurse, employed at the Community General Hospital, Sterling, at the time of the occurrence; Paul Bjork. Hospital Administrator at the hospital; Edna Oberbillig, the Juvenile Probation Officer of Whiteside County on April 10, 1958; and Vernice Triplett, head nurse of the Obstetrical Department in the hospital on April 14, 1958.

The witnesses for the respondents were Vernabelle Bealer, Deputy County Clerk; Robert M. Bell, attorney; Creighton Buell, the ex-husband of the petitioner; Claire Jordan, one of the respondents; and Dr. Dora Zaeske.

The document termed a consent and admittedly signed by Beulah Buell, on April 12, 1958, bears the purported acknowledgment of Vernabelle Bealer, Deputy County Clerk of Whiteside County, Illinois. It is entitled "In the County Court of Rock Island County," Illinois; it recites in its caption: "In the Matter of the Petition of Claire Jordan and Juanita Jordan to Adopt Baby Girl Buell." The document is an entry of appearance "in the above entitled cause," a consent that any order entered by the Court as to the control, guardianship, or adoption of the child shall bind Beulah Buell, and a release of all right to custody or guardianship. There was in fact no petition for adoption of any kind on file at that time, or subsequently, in the County Court of Whiteside County, or in the County Court of Rock Island County. We have already referred to the Adoption Act, which provides that a consent to adoption, properly executed, shall be irrevocable unless it should be obtained by fraud or duress and a court of competent jurisdiction shall so find. On this issue of fraud or duress the burden of proving fraud or duress rested upon the petitioner, but, on the other hand, the finding of facts of the Trial Court favorably to the petitioner cannot be set aside on this review unless this finding is clearly and palpably erroneous, and against the manifest weight of the evidence: Cf. In re Wojtkowiak (1957) 14 Ill. App.2d 344; Flug v. Craft Mfg. Co. (1954) 3 Ill. App.2d 56; In re Matter of Gleeson (1954) 1 Ill. App.2d 409; cf. In re Petition of Balota (1955) 7 Ill. App.2d 178.

As we view the material, significant evidence, it appears that the petitioner Beulah M. Buell is the mother of four other children, three of whom live with her in Rock Falls, Whiteside County, and she and Creighton Buell, her former husband, were divorced July 1, 1957. She was graduated from the eighth grade of school. She was unemployed. She had no income except certain State Aid from the State of Illinois. Her home is clean, the other children with her appear well fed, and the home is evidently a suitable home for raising the child here concerned. In September, 1957, Creighton Buell, the ex-husband of the petitioner, and a friend and former fellow employee of the respondent, Claire Jordan, learned that the petitioner was pregnant, and asked her what the State was going to do. Then he told her that the State might take away her other children in the event she kept the child to be born, and then he suggested that the respondent, Claire Jordan, might be willing to adopt the petitioner's child to be born. Mr. Buell said that the petitioner did not really want to adopt out the child, but she was on A.D.C., did not know whether such would jeopardize her family or not, but thought it the best thing to do. Creighton Buell then contacted Claire Jordan and about 2 weeks later reported to Beulah Buell that the Jordans would adopt the child. The petitioner said it was not at her request that the Jordans were contacted. It appears also that when the petitioner was pregnant she consulted Dr. Dora Zaeske, in Sterling, Dr. Zaeske having been her mother's doctor; she told the doctor the child was going to be adopted and that all arrangements had been made. In March, 1958, respondents paid Dr. Zaeske $106 to care for the petitioner and for delivering the child; and on April 9, 1958, the petitioner entered the Sterling Community Hospital, Sterling, Whiteside County, and, after being in labor about 11 hours and receiving divers drugs and medications under the direction of the doctor, gave birth to Baby Girl Buell on April 10, 1958. The respondents paid the $170 hospital bill April 14, 1958. The respondents had not told the petitioner they were going to pay the medical and hospital bills. She had strocillin, thiosulfil, and some seconal drugs at the hospital, the first two being preventives against thrombosis, the last being a sedative. She said that when she went into the hospital she intended to give the child away for adoption, but when she was in the hospital she did not want to give up the baby, though she did not say anything about it.

The petitioner said some papers were brought to her for signature April 10, the day the child was born, but she does not know who brought them, or what the papers were.

At the time the petitioner signed the purported appearance and consent April 12, 1958, she was in bed, in the hospital, had just 2 days previously given birth to the child after a rather long labor period, had been under some sedation, and she was having trouble with her legs. The doctor said she had severe numerous varicosities in both legs and began to complain the day after the birth that her legs were hurting. She was let out of bed earlier than ordinary to avoid phlebitis. She had extra medication for that and the doctor said that condition was pretty well controlled in 24 to 36 hours. During the night of April 11-12 she had had seconal about 9:00 p.m. and again about 2:30 a.m. The doctor said such is a short acting drug of 4-6 hours duration, and it is unusual for it to last any longer. She was without funds with which to pay the medical and hospital bills and was disturbed about them. Mr. Bell, representing the respondents, and Vernabelle Bealer, Deputy County Clerk, came to the hospital room to have her sign the consent. They had not met the petitioner before. She was in bed watching television. She said Mr. Bell did not introduce himself, but identified Mrs. Bealer as a Rock Island Welfare Worker. He gave the petitioner a paper to sign which she testified he did not read to or explain to her, and which she did not read, but which she did sign. Mr. Bell testified he did correctly introduce himself and Vernabelle Bealer, asked Beulah Buell if she wanted to sign the consent, she replied that she did, and he then explained what it was, though he did not read it to her, gave her a pen, and she signed; that ...

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