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Regenold v. Baby Fold





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Fourth District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of McLean County, the Hon. James A. Knecht, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied November 23, 1977.

Linda Fay Regenold filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the circuit court of McLean County alleging that she was being unlawfully deprived of the custody of her infant son by the Baby Fold, Inc. Linda had executed a surrender document on October 22, 1975, pursuant to section 10 of the Adoption Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 4, par. 9.1-10) and had physically surrendered the child to the Baby Fold. She contends that the surrender is not valid because it was executed as the result of fraud and duress. The circuit court held the consent invalid and ordered the return of the infant. The appellate court reversed with one justice dissenting. (42 Ill. App.3d 39.) We granted Linda's petition for leave to appeal.

It is Linda's position that the totality of the circumstances surrounding the execution of the surrender document was such that she was placed under so much stress that the execution of the document was not her free and voluntary act. She also contends that the Baby Fold participated in the fraud and duress, as will later be discussed. The Baby Fold contends that pursuant to the statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 4, par. 9.1-11) the surrender document was irrevocable unless it was obtained by fraud or duress on the part of the Baby Fold; that the conduct of the Baby Fold did not amount to fraud or duress; that under the present statute the totality of the circumstances is not relevant, and even if relevant the total picture is not one of fraud or duress as heretofore recognized by the courts> of this State.

Linda graduated from Bloomington High School in the spring of 1974. She applied for and was granted admission to Illinois State University in Normal. She did not enter the university, however, because in August 1974 she gave birth to the child who is the subject of this litigation. She had been pregnant several months before her marriage to the child's father on April 4, 1974. During this marriage she and her husband (and their son after his birth) continued to live with her mother and father and her two brothers. One brother was 18 years old and the other one was 3 years old. The 3-year-old was retarded as a result of an illness. Her husband would not work and, in June 1975, he left the home. She procured a divorce in September 1975.

Linda apparently secured employment before her husband left the home and continued to work thereafter. Her earnings, however, were insubstantial. From these she had to pay $100 per month for a baby-sitter while she worked, and she also had to pay her mother rent. She was indebted to a doctor for the delivery of her son. She was also indebted for a hospital bill and owed an attorney for legal services related to her divorce. In addition she had a car loan and premiums to pay on her automobile insurance. She stated she had sought financial aid through different public agencies to no avail.

In September and October of 1975, she was under a doctor's care and was taking medication for an infection. The doctor told her if the medication did not remedy the ailment surgery would be required. The record does not reflect that surgery was ever performed. During this time her mother and father were having marital difficulties and were constantly arguing. Her mother told Linda that she was going to divorce Linda's father and sell the house, in which event Linda would have to move out and get a place of her own. Also, her mother was constantly reminding her that she was not paying enough rent. Her 3-year-old brother was partially crippled and, according to Linda, a little slow and "[h]e doesn't catch onto things very fast." Her brother was jealous of her son and would throw toys at him and try to knock him down. Linda also testified that during this period of time she was under considerable stress at her place of employment and was required to do the work load of about three people.

On October 20, 1975, Linda phoned the Baby Fold. According to Linda she told the person to whom she talked on the phone that she wanted someone to talk to. She was told she could come in that evening. When she arrived at the Baby Fold she talked to Martha Price, a social worker. They discussed Linda's situation for about an hour and a half, during which time Linda related all of her problems. According to Linda, the social worker then stated that adoption could be a solution because it would relieve Linda of some of the financial obligations. Linda stated that this was the first time adoption had been mentioned. She also stated that the social worker did not mention any alternate solutions to her problems other than adoption, such as temporary foster care for the child or other sources of financial aid.

The testimony of the members of the Baby Fold staff concerning this first meeting differs somewhat from that given by Linda. Margaret Cunningham, the director of social services at the Baby Fold, testified that on October 20, 1975, at about 5 p.m., she received a phone call from Linda, who said she was interested in talking to someone about placing her child for adoption. The director invited her to come in that evening, which she did. When she arrived she was referred to Martha Price, the social worker, for the interview, during which time the social worker took notes which were subsequently expanded and have been introduced into evidence. Marcia Comeford, a student who was doing field work with the Baby Fold, was also present during the interview. Both of these staff members testified, and the expanded notes of the interview support this testimony, that following a discussion of Linda's problems Mrs. Price asked, in effect, if that was the reason she had been thinking about placing her child for adoption, and that Linda had stated it was. They also testified that there was a discussion concerning other sources of financial assistance. Linda had explored these alternatives, such as family help, financial assistance from her ex-husband, public aid, and assistance from the township. No financial aid was available from these sources. These witnesses also testified that Linda had stated that she did not want her son placed in a foster home. Mrs. Price testified that they also discussed some help for the 3-year-old brother through the local school district, which might help remove the conflict that existed between the two infants. Several times during the interview they stated that Linda was asked if she still considered adoption as a solution and she affirmed that she did. Mrs. Price also testified that Linda said she felt that she, as a single parent, could not provide for her son what two parents could provide for a child. The witnesses stated that the adoption process was explained to her and that she was informed that if she executed a surrender it would be final and irrevocable. She was then asked to fill out a social history form, after which she was asked when she would like to bring her son and execute the surrender form. She stated that she would need a day or two to get his clothes together, and it was agreed that she would return with her son on October 22, two days later. She stated that she would like her son to have his bed because it might help him to adjust in a new environment. She asked Mrs. Price if she would have someone come and get the bed.

The next day, October 21, Mrs. Price called Linda and told her that someone from the Baby Fold could come and get the bed if she still desired to surrender her son. Linda suggested that the bed be picked up the following afternoon, October 22, and stated that she would bring her son to the Baby Fold the same evening.

Linda and her son arrived at the Baby Fold about 6 p.m. on October 22. Mrs. Price asked her how she felt about her decision to place her son for adoption, and she indicated that she wanted to continue with the plan. Marsha Ideus, another social worker at the Baby Fold, was asked to join in the interview. She described to Linda the family with which the Baby Fold had decided to place the infant. Linda stated that this made her feel better. Mrs. Price then filled in the surrender document, gave a copy of it to Linda, and read it to her and asked her if that is what she wanted to do. Linda stated that it was, that it was her free and voluntary act, and that she understood that after signing the document she could not change her mind. She then signed the surrender document in the presence of Mrs. Price, who later signed the certificate of acknowledgment as prescribed by statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 4, par. 9.1-10). Mrs. Price then helped Linda bring in a box of the child's clothes from Linda's car. Linda then gave Mrs. Price the infant's birth certificate and a baby picture which she said she wanted the family and her son to have. She stated she had forgotten to bring his immunization record, which she would bring later because it showed the shots that her son needed. Mrs. Price asked her to bring a copy of her divorce decree when she came.

She returned two days later, October 24, with her divorce decree and the immunization record. She and Mrs. Price discussed the placement of her son and also discussed her future plans, which included further education, better employment, and moving from her parents' home, which she was in the process of doing.

Linda testified that she felt that after the first visit to the Baby Fold on October 20, when she filled out the social history form, she had to go through with the placing of her child for adoption even though she did not sign the surrender document until two days later on October 22. Her 18-year-old brother testified that, before Linda went to the Baby Fold on October 22, he asked her why she was giving up her son and that Linda stated that she couldn't back out now.

About four days after Linda surrendered her child, she went to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Adams, from whom she often sought parental guidance. She was crying and stated that she wanted to get her baby back. Mr. and Mrs. Adams undertook to secure an attorney to represent her. Linda testified that she always conferred with Mr. and Mrs. Adams on all major decisions; however, she had not consulted them about placing her child for adoption.

Dr. Arthur Traugott, a psychiatrist, testified on behalf of Linda. He stated hypothetically that a young woman faced with Linda's problems was subject to pressures which would impair rational judgment. Inasmuch as she did not consult with Mr. and Mrs. Adams about placing her child for adoption, as she had done in all of her other major decisions, she was not following her normal decision-making process and he did not think that her decision to surrender her child was free and voluntary. He felt that she was acting under compulsion and made an impulsive decision to rid herself of some of her burdens. He ...

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