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Castro v. Lemus

Supreme Court of Utah

December 19, 2019

Oscar Castro, Appellant,
Mari Teresa Lemus, Appellee.

          Heard February 22, 2019

         On Certification from the Court of Appeals

          Fourth District, Provo The Honorable Lynn W. Davis No. 174401943

          Attorneys: [1] Troy L. Booher, Julie J. Nelson, Michael J. Teter, Salt Lake City, Dustin A. Hardy, Orem, for appellant

          Aaron M. Drake, Salt Lake City, for appellee





         ¶1 Appellant Oscar Castro seeks to establish his paternity of a child born to Mari Teresa Lemus (Mother), who is married to another man (Husband). Castro contends that he is the biological father of the child. But because Mother was married when the child was born, the Utah Uniform Parentage Act (UUPA)[2] presumes that her husband is the child's father. Castro filed a petition in the district court to rebut this legal presumption. The district court dismissed Castro's paternity petition, applying court of appeals' precedent to determine that Castro has no standing under the UUPA because the child was born during a marriage with a presumed father. See generally R.P. v. K.S.W., 2014 UT App 38, 320 P.3d 1084.

         ¶2 On appeal, Castro argues that the court of appeals' interpretation of the UUPA is incorrect. Alternatively, he contends that if the UUPA does deny him standing, it is unconstitutional.

         ¶3 We conclude that section 78B-15-602 of the UUPA grants standing to Castro and the other persons and entities listed in that provision and that subsection 607(1) does not revoke that standing when the child has a presumed father. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.


         ¶4 Mother married Husband in 2012. Early in the marriage, Husband traveled to Mexico to visit his mother, who had fallen ill. Because he was later unable to return to Utah, Mother would travel to and from Mexico periodically to be with Husband.

         ¶5 Mother and Husband separated two years later, and she returned to Utah while he remained in Mexico. Soon thereafter, Mother began dating Castro. Their relationship lasted approximately two years, during which time they conceived a child.

         ¶6 But in May 2016, Husband returned to Utah and he reconciled with Mother. The child was born to Mother in December that same year. Mother and Husband have remained married and neither spouse has ever initiated divorce proceedings. Mother and Husband allege that they have fulfilled all parental roles for the child since birth, and they desire to continue to do so free from Castro's interference.

         ¶7 But Castro wants to establish himself as the child's legal father. To do so, Castro filed a petition in the district court to challenge Husband's presumed paternity; assert his own parentage; and establish custody, child support, and parent-time. In response, Mother filed a rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Relying on the court of appeals' decision in R.P. v. K.S.W., 2014 UT App 38, 320 P.3d 1084, and its progeny, Mother argued that subsection 78B-15-607(1) of the UUPA denies Castro standing to challenge the presumption of paternity established under subsection 204(1)(a).

         ¶8 In his opposition to Mother's motion to dismiss, Castro conceded that R.P. v. K.S.W. is binding upon the district court and limits standing as to who may challenge the presumption of paternity. But he argued that such a limitation violates his constitutional rights to procedural and substantive due process and equal protection.

         ¶9 Following a hearing on the motion to dismiss, the district court dismissed Castro's paternity petition. Relying on court of appeals' precedent, the district court reiterated that the UUPA purposefully subordinates the judiciary's truth-seeking function to policy concerns about protecting a marriage from third-party challenges. The court also concluded that Castro had failed to overcome the presumption that the UUPA is constitutional.

         ¶10 Castro timely appealed from the district court's final ruling on the motion to dismiss. The court of appeals certified the case to this court to review unsettled constitutional questions regarding the UUPA. We exercise jurisdiction under Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(b).


         ¶11 "We review the grant of a motion to dismiss for correctness, granting no deference to the decision of the district court." Hudgens v. Prosper, Inc., 2010 UT 68, ¶ 14, 243 P.3d 1275. A rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should be granted only if "assuming the truth of the allegations in the complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, it is clear that the plaintiff is not entitled to relief." Id. (citation omitted). "The interpretation and constitutionality of a statute are questions of law that we review for correctness." Waite v. Utah Labor Comm'n, 2017 UT 86, ¶ 5, 416 P.3d 635.


         ¶12 Castro argues that the court of appeals has incorrectly interpreted the UUPA to deny standing to alleged fathers when the child is conceived or born during a marriage between the mother and another man who is legally presumed to be the child's father. In the alternative, he argues that if we conclude the UUPA does deny him standing, the statute is unconstitutional for a number of reasons. Because we agree with Castro that the UUPA grants standing to alleged fathers in these circumstances, we do not reach his constitutional claims.


         ¶15 The initial question before us is whether the UUPA grants standing to biological fathers-termed "alleged fathers"[4] in the statute-when another man is legally presumed to be the child's father. Castro argues that the UUPA clearly grants him standing. Mother argues it clearly does not.

         ¶16 The court of appeals addressed this question in R.P. v. K.S.W., 2014 UT App 38, 320 P.3d 1084. In R.P., a married woman conceived a child during an extramarital affair. Id. ¶ 2. After she informed the alleged father of the pregnancy as well as her intent to remain married, the alleged father filed a petition to establish paternity. Id. Initially, the mother admitted that the alleged father was the child's biological father, and they entered into a stipulated agreement regarding child support, parent-time, and joint legal custody. Id. ¶¶ 2-3. But when the alleged father later requested increased parent-time, the mother moved to set aside the agreement and dismiss the case, arguing, among other things, that the alleged father lacked standing to challenge the child's paternity. Id. ¶ 3. The district court agreed that the alleged father lacked standing and dismissed the case. Id.

         ¶17 The court of appeals affirmed that ruling. Id. ¶¶ 1, 45. After analyzing the relevant statutory provisions, it concluded that they were ambiguous as to who had standing to rebut the presumption of paternity. Id. ¶¶ 15-17. So the court looked to the UUPA's legislative history and policy objectives. Id. ¶¶ 18-26. Ultimately, the court of appeals concluded the UUPA denied standing to the alleged father to assert his paternity while the mother's marriage to the presumed father remained intact. Id. ¶ 26.

         ¶18 This is a matter of first impression for this court. We conclude that the UUPA does grant an alleged father standing to assert his paternity, even where, as here, the child has a presumed father.

         ¶19 When interpreting a statute, our primary objective "is to ascertain the intent of the legislature." Bagley v. Bagley, 2016 UT 48, ¶ 10, 387 P.3d 1000 (citation omitted). Because "[t]he best evidence of the legislature's intent is the plain language of the statute itself," we analyze that first. Id. (alteration in original) (citation omitted). In doing so, "[w]e read the plain language of the statute as a whole[] and interpret its provisions in harmony with other statutes in the same chapter and related chapters." Miller v. Weaver, 2003 UT 12, ¶ 17, 66 P.3d 592. Accordingly, we begin by looking at the text of the UUPA.

         ¶20 The UUPA governs "determinations of parentage in this state." Utah Code § 78B-15-103(1). "'Determination of parentage' means the establishment of the parent-child relationship," id. § 78B-15-102(9), which is "the legal relationship between a child and a parent of the child," id. § 78B-15-102(18). The term "[p]arent-child relationship" includes "the mother-child relationship and the father-child relationship." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         ¶21 Establishing the mother-child relationship is usually a straightforward matter because the mother has given birth to the child.[5] Id. § 78B-15-201(1)(a)(i) (establishing a mother-child relationship by "the woman's having given birth to the child"). But because this is not the case for the father, Utah law creates a presumption that a married mother's husband is the father of the child if the child is born during the marriage. See id. § 78B-15-204(1)(a). This presumption is rebuttable. A "[p]resumed father" is defined in the UUPA as "a man who, by operation of law under [s]ection 78B-15-204, is recognized as the father of a child until that status is rebutted or confirmed as set forth in this chapter." Id. § 78B-15-102(20) (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         ¶22 When no presumption of paternity exists, Utah law recognizes other pathways to establish paternity. Under the UUPA, the father-child relationship can be established in a number of ways, including by a legal declaration of paternity (declarant father), an adjudication of paternity (adjudicated father), or adoption. See id. § 78B-15-201(2)(b)-(d).

         A. Section 602-the UUPA's Standing Provision

         ¶23 The UUPA explicitly identifies the parties with standing to maintain a proceeding to adjudicate the parentage of a child. Specifically, Utah Code section 78B-15-602, titled "Standing to maintain proceeding," provides:

Subject to Part 3, Voluntary Declaration of Paternity Act, and Sections 78B-15-607 and 78B-15-609, a proceeding to adjudicate ...

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