Paternity, Workers comp, Uninsured Employers Fund

DATE RENDERED: 10/19/2007

The Uninsured Employers' Fund (UEF) appealed from TC’s order denying its motion to set aside an order determining that deceased worker was father of child. The UEF argued that TC’s order was void ab initio because that court lacked jurisdiction; that it was a necessary party to this action; and that TC erred when it did not provide relief under CR 60.03.

Because Worker’s employer did not have worker’s compensation insurance when Worker died due to a work-related injury, UEF was joined as a party to worker’s compensation claim filed by Estate. During course of discovery in worker’s compensation claim, the parties determined that Worker might have fathered a child before coming to the U.S. from Mexico. Neither the child nor child’s Mother had ever resided in the U.S. After Administrative Law Judge refused to make paternity determination, Estate filed Complaint for Determination of Paternity in Family Court. UEF was not named as a party but was copied on Complaint. UEF did not move to intervene or otherwise respond to the complaint. Family Court entered Agreed Order of Paternity. A few months later, UEF filed Motion to Set Aside Paternity Order under CR 60.02. TC denied the Motion and UEF brought this appeal.

UEF first argued that TC lacked jurisdiction to determine paternity on several different grounds. In order to file complaint under KRS 406.021, the complaint must have been filed by County Attorney or CHFS. As Estate filed the complaint, the complaint could not have been properly before the court under this statute. CA agreed. UEF also asserted that KRS Chapter 406, which is said to apply to all cases of birth out of wedlock, did not provide jurisdiction to TC to determine paternity, as the birth must have occurred in the state or the mother must have met certain residency requirements. As neither of these terms was met, UEF claimed that TC did not have jurisdiction to decide paternity under KRS Chapter 406. CA again agreed. However, CA found that Section 112 of the Constitution and KRS 23A.100 and 23A.110, when construed together, give the family court jurisdiction beyond KRS Chapter 406 proceedings, including declaratory judgment actions. Furthermore, though the complaint was styled as a determination of paternity, it was appropriate to treat the complaint as a declaratory judgment, as a pleading should be judged according to its substance and not its form.

UEF next argued that Estate fatally erred by failing to join it as a necessary party in the paternity action, because it had an interest that would be affected by the declaration of paternity, as it may be required to pay income benefits to any children of Worker. CA found that UEF did have an interest in the declaration of paternity, but that UEF should have attempted to intervene in the action, as only parties can complain that a necessary party was not joined.

Lastly, UEF argued for relief under CR 60.03, which provides for equitable relief through independent actions. In order to receive this relief, UEF should have demonstrated that there was no other available or adequate remedy; that it did not create or affect the situation for which it requests equitable relief through its own fault or neglect; and that there was a recognized ground for the relief, such as fraud, accident or mistake. CA found that UEF did not and could not have demonstrated any of these things, as the fact that it had the opportunity to intervene in the action affected each one.

As digested by Michelle Eisenmenger Mapes, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates