February 25, 2011
SUMMARY OF RAFTOPOL V. RAMEY
By: Jennifer Brady, Research Fellow
You asked for a summary of the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision in Raftopol v. Ramey, 299 Conn. 681 (2011).
Raftopol v. Ramey involved two plaintiffs who entered a written gestational agreement with a gestational carrier. Under this agreement, a third party egg donor donated eggs which were fertilized with one of the plaintiff's sperm. The other plaintiff was an intended parent under this agreement.
Prior to the birth of two children, the plaintiffs brought a declaratory judgment action requesting that the court order the Department of Public Health (DPH) to issue a replacement birth certificate reflecting the plaintiffs, and not the carrier, as the children's parents. The Superior Court found the gestational agreement valid and ordered DPH to issue a replacement birth certificate. DPH appealed.
The Connecticut Supreme Court concluded that Connecticut law, specifically CGS § 7-48a, permits a non-biological intended parent who is not the adoptive parent of a child to become a legal parent of that child through a valid gestational agreement. The court ruled that a court order under this statute entitles the intended parents to be named as parents on the replacement birth certificate, regardless of their biological relationship to the children.
Additionally, the majority suggested ambiguities in the statute for the legislature to consider.
Justice Zarella, joined by Justice Vertefeuille, concurred in the majority's conclusion but argued that the plain language of CGS § 7-48a is not ambiguous as it relates to this case and that the majority improperly examined the statute's legislative history after concluding there was only one plausible interpretation.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Anthony Raftopol and Shawn Hargon entered into a written gestational agreement with Karma Ramey. Under this agreement, Ramey was the gestational carrier for eggs donated by a third party egg donor and fertilized with Raftopol's sperm. Hargon was an intended, non-biological parent. According to the court, an intended parent is “a party to a gestational agreement who enters into the agreement with a gestational carrier with the intention of becoming the legal parent of any resulting children.” Ramey gave birth to two children.
Under the gestational agreement, Ramey agreed to terminate her parental rights to any children, consent to the adoption of such children, and to cooperate as necessary so that a replacement birth certificate naming the plaintiffs as the parents of such children could be issued.
Prior to the birth of the children, Raftopol and Hargon sought a declaratory judgment that their gestational agreement was valid and that they were the children's legal parents. They requested that the court order DPH to issue a replacement birth certificate listing the two plaintiffs as the parents. CGS § 7-48a states, “On and after January 1, 2002, each birth certificate shall be filed with the name of the birth mother recorded. If the birth is subject to a gestational agreement, the Department of Public Health shall create a replacement certificate in accordance with an order from a court of competent jurisdiction not later than forty-five days after receipt of such order or forty-five days after the birth of the child, whichever is later. Such replacement certificate shall include all information required to be included in a certificate of birth of this state as of the date of the birth. . . .”
The trial court ruled (1) the gestational agreement was valid; (2) Raftopol was the children's genetic and legal father; (3) Hargon was the children's legal father; and (4) Ramey was not the children's genetic or legal mother. The court ordered DPH to issue a replacement birth certificate under CGS § 7-48a. DPH appealed this decision.
On appeal, the Supreme Court considered whether Connecticut law, specifically CGS § 7-48a, permits a non-biological intended parent who is not the adoptive parent of a child to become a legal parent of that child through a valid gestational agreement.
RULING OF THE COURT
Justice McLachlan wrote the opinion of the court, joined by Chief Justice Rogers and Justices Katz, Norcott, and Palmer. The Connecticut Supreme Court concluded:
1. Ramey had no parental rights to terminate, so terminating those rights was not necessary to determining Hargon's parental status;
2. the trial court had jurisdiction to declare Hargon a legal parent;
3. under CGS § 7-48a, an intended parent who is a party to a valid gestational agreement may become a parent without first adopting the children, regardless of their biological relationship to the children; and
4. the trial court properly ordered DPH to issue a replacement birth certificate listing Hargon as the children's parent. The court limited its holding to valid gestational agreements.
Gestational Carrier's Rights
The court stated that under Connecticut law, “a gestational carrier who bears no biological relationship to the child she has carried does not have parental rights with respect to that child.” The court also stated that in Connecticut, a person may become a parent by (1) conception, (2) adoption, or (3) pursuant to the artificial insemination statutes.
The court found that Ramey is not the biological parent of the children, she did not adopt the children, and she does not fall within the artificial insemination statutes. Thus, Ramey did not have parental rights to the children.
Jurisdiction to Declare Hargon a Parent
The Probate Court, not the Superior Court where this case was originally tried, has jurisdiction over adoption proceedings. However, there were no adoption proceedings in this case. Hargon argued that he was a legal parent under the gestational agreement and CGS § 7-48a even though he did not adopt the children. The Supreme Court ruled that the trial court had jurisdiction to declare Hargon a parent under the statute.
Parental Status by Virtue of a Valid Gestational Agreement
According to the court, whether CGS § 7-48a permits a non-biological intended parent who is not the adoptive parent of a child to become a legal parent of that child through a valid gestational agreement is a question of statutory interpretation. The court assumed the gestational agreement in this case was valid because the agreement's validity was not challenged on appeal.
The court then looked at the text of CGS § 7-48a. After highlighting ambiguities in this statutory language, the court looked at CGS § 45a-775, which provides that a donor of sperm or eggs used in artificial insemination has no parental status by virtue of contributing such sperm or eggs. As mentioned above, the court had already concluded that a gestational carrier who is party to a valid gestational agreement does not have any parental rights. The court, based on the statute's plain language, rejected DPH's argument that the legislature intended that only biological intended parents may acquire legal status as parents. The court found that DPH's interpretation would lead to “an absurd result” because it could lead to a parentless child.
Next, the court reviewed the legislative history and determined that it clarifies that CGS § 7-48a created an additional way to become a legal parent in Connecticut. In addition to conception, adoption, and the artificial insemination statutes, a person can become a legal parent under CGS § 7-48a.
The court concluded that CGS § 7-48a permits a non-biological intended parent who has not adopted the child to become that child's legal parent through a valid gestational agreement. The court ruled that a court order under this statute entitles the intended parents to be named as parents on the replacement birth certificate, regardless of their biological relationship to the children.
Replacement Birth Certificate
Along with the court's conclusions that the trial court had jurisdiction to declare Hargon a legal parent and that CGS § 7-48a allows a non-biological, intended parent to become a parent through a valid gestational agreement, the court further concluded that the trial court appropriately ordered DPH to issue a replacement birth certificate. The court stated that the parental relationship was created by the gestational agreement and an accurate birth certificate requires a proper recording of that relationship.
Ambiguities in the Statute
The majority, while acknowledging that the legislature is the appropriate body to deal with public policy surrounding gestational agreements, noted that “the statutory text gives rise to numerous ambiguities.” Some of the ambiguities highlighted by the court include that CGS § 7-48a does not:
● define the term “birth mother;”
● describe which types of gestational agreements are valid;
● address the nature and scope of an “order from a court of competent jurisdiction;” or
● describe who may qualify, and how, as a parent on a replacement birth certificate.
The majority also noted that Connecticut law does not address the elements of a valid gestational agreement.
JUSTICE ZARELLA'S CONCURRENCE
Justice Zarella, joined by Justice Vertefeuille, agreed with the majority's conclusion to affirm the lower court's decision. But he disagreed with the court's analysis of the statute's ambiguities and legislative history.
Justice Zarella stated that the legislative history was not relevant because the majority already concluded that there was only one plausible interpretation of the statute, based on its plain language. The concurring opinion also said that the court should not send a list of ambiguities to the legislature because requesting legislative action “is not essential to a resolution of the issues in this case and represents an inappropriate intrusion into the legislative domain.”