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Meza v. Rodriguez

June 25, 1999


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 97--AD--127, 97--F--148, 97--F--323. Honorable Patrick L. Heaslip, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Geiger

the opinion of the court:

The plaintiff, Rosendo Meza, Jr., appeals from the July 27, 1998, order of the circuit court of Winnebago County denying his motion to reconsider the dismissal of his complaint to establish his parental relationship to S.R., a minor child. The trial court dismissed Meza's complaint after finding that he had executed a final and irrevocable surrender of parental rights that was in substantial compliance with the requirements of the Adoption Act (the Act) (750 ILCS 50/0.01 et seq. (West 1996)). On appeal, Meza argues that (1) the certificate of acknowledgment of the surrender document did not conform to the requirements of the Act; (2) his execution of the surrender document was procured by fraud and duress; (3) the surrender document is void because it was the result of the unauthorized practice of law; (4) the provisions of the Act are unconstitutional; and (5) the trial court erred in finding that he lacked standing to bring a paternity action. We affirm.

The instant litigation involves three separate cases that were consolidated below. The first case was a "Notice to Putative Father" proceeding that was filed on May 30, 1997. On June 5, 1997, Meza was notified that Lisa Rodriguez had identified him as S.R.'s father and advised him that Rodriguez intended to place S.R. for adoption. The notice advised Meza that, if he wanted to preserve his parental rights to S.R., he was required to file a declaration of paternity within 30 days. On October 9, 1997, Meza executed a written surrender of parental rights. Despite executing this surrender document, on October 23, 1997, Meza filed an entry of appearance with the trial court and a declaration of paternity.

The second case in this consolidated proceeding was a petition for the adoption of S.R., which was filed on October 15, 1997. The child welfare agency facilitating the adoption was defendant Children's Home and Aid Society of Illinois (CHASI).

The third case in the litigation was a petition to "Establish the Father and Child Relationship" filed by Meza on October 24, 1997. The petition named Rodriguez and CHASI as defendants. On October 30, 1997, as part of this case, Meza filed a motion to "Void or Revoke Consent to Adopt and Declaration of Paternity." In his motion, Meza sought to void his written surrender of parental rights.

On November 12, 1997, CHASI moved to dismiss Meza's complaint. CHASI alleged that Meza's parental rights were terminated on October 9, 1997, when he executed a final and irrevocable surrender for purposes of adoption.

On April 3, 1998, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on CHASI's motion to dismiss. At the hearing, CHASI introduced a document entitled "Final and Irrevocable Surrender for Purposes of Adoption" which was executed by Meza on October 9, 1997. In addition to his signing the document, Meza initialed each of the typewritten paragraphs on the form. Meza's execution of the surrender was witnessed by Therese Sullivan, who was a pregnancy counselor for CHASI, and Deborah Michalowski, who was a nurse working at the DeKalb County Health Department, where the surrender was executed.

In addition to the surrender, Meza completed a parental affidavit form indicating that he had read the surrender document; that he understood the document; that he signed the document of his own free will; that he understood that his decision was final and that he would never regain the right to his child; that no one had threatened him or made promises to him to induce him to execute the surrender document; and that all of his questions regarding the surrender had been answered to his satisfaction. This parental affidavit was also introduced into evidence.

Meza also completed a personal information form and a medical history form on October 9, 1997. Sullivan observed Meza fill out these forms and testified that it took Meza approximately 30 minutes to complete them. On the back of one of these forms, Meza wrote a message to S.R.'s adoptive parents. The message was as follows:

"Please inform me if your daughter is in a life and death situation. P.S. I know she would love helicopter's [sic] especially in the med[ical]-field ***!! I know my daughter is in good hands[.] Congratulations Father and Mother."

Following this message, Meza wrote his address and telephone number. These forms were also introduced into evidence.

CHASI also presented the testimony of Therese Sullivan. Sullivan testified that she spoke with Meza for the first time by phone on May 24, 1997. At this time, Sullivan told Meza that she had been working with Rodriguez, who was considering placing S.R. for adoption. Sullivan also told Meza that he would be receiving a "Notice to Putative Father" form and that he needed to respond to it. S.R. was born on September 28, 1997, and Rodriguez signed a surrender on October 2, 1997. On October 7, 1997, Sullivan contacted Meza to make arrangements for him to sign a surrender. Meza agreed to meet Sullivan on October 9, 1997, at the DeKalb County Health Department.

Sullivan testified that, when Meza arrived on October 9, 1997, she explained to him that none of his parental rights had yet been terminated. Sullivan explained that his execution of the surrender document would be a final act and asked Meza if he needed some additional time to make the decision. Meza told Sullivan that he was ready to sign the surrender and that he did not need any more time.

Sullivan testified that the mood in the room was serious at the time Meza executed the documents. Sullivan asked Meza whether he wanted Rodriguez to wait outside while he signed the surrender, but Meza did not request Rodriguez to leave the room. As Meza left after he executed the forms, he did not appear upset. Later that day, Sullivan signed the certificate of acknowledgment on the surrender form and had her own signature notarized.

Deborah Michalowski, a nurse at the DeKalb County Health Department, also testified on CHASI's behalf. Michalowski witnessed Meza's execution of the surrender. Michalowski's testimony was consistent with that of Sullivan.

Warren Hienke, CHASI's Regional Director, testified that CHASI was a licensed child and family welfare agency. Hienke testified that Sullivan was an employee of CHASI and was authorized to take surrenders of parental rights.

Meza also testified during the hearing. Meza testified that he wanted S.R. and that he had told Rodriguez during the pregnancy that the baby could come live with his family. Meza bought clothes for S.R. and took them to the nursing home where Rodriguez worked. Meza repeatedly told Rodriguez that ...

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