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Moore v. Hafeeza

Decided: July 29, 1986.


Imbriani, J.s.c.


On June 9, 1969 plaintiff, Kathryn Moore, gave birth to a child out of wedlock and applied for welfare support. She claimed that defendant, Jamil Hafeeza, was the father of her child and, as was the procedure at that time, the Somerset County Board of Social Services (hereafter board), not plaintiff, filed a complaint in the Somerville Municipal Court against Jamil Hafeeza alleging that he was the father of the child and should be compelled to support the child. He denied paternity.

A trial was held in the Somerville Municipal Court in which the board and defendant were both represented by independent

counsel. There is no transcript available of the hearing but the jacket of the file indicates that plaintiff, defendant and an independent witness testified and the results of a blood test were introduced as evidence. There is a recorded disposition on August 10, 1971 of "No Filiation" and a notation on the file that an order of judgment was signed by the municipal court judge on August 24, 1971. No appeal was ever taken.

In January 1986 -- almost 15 years after the decision by the Somerville Municipal Court -- plaintiff (who was not a named party, but a witness in the 1971 proceeding) filed this suit in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division-Family Part again alleging that defendant is the father of her daughter, Stacey Trent Moore, now 16-years of age and should support the child.

Defendant again denies paternity, and also asserts that plaintiff's claim is barred under the doctrines of double jeopardy, res judicata, equitable estoppel and laches. Moreover, defendant asserts, this really is a motion for a new trial under R. 4:50-1 et seq., to set aside a judgment that is 15-years old. Plaintiff argues that she is not barred from bringing this action because she was not a litigant in the 1971 trial.

The crux of plaintiff's claim is that there is now available what she describes as "newly discoverable evidence," namely the results of a human leucocyte antigen (HLA) test, which was not available in 1971. She asserts that she has never had her day in court to prove paternity and should not be barred by the action instituted by the board. The HLA test first became available in the late 1970's and is accepted by the scientific community as a reliable and accurate test for the exclusion of paternity. Malvasi v. Malvasi, 167 N.J. Super. 513 (Ch.Div.1979). It is accepted as being over 99% accurate.

Defendant first contends that plaintiff's complaint is quasi-criminal in nature and is barred by the double jeopardy provision of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. As a general rule, the prohibition against subjecting an

individual to double jeopardy for the same offense applies only to criminal and quasi-criminal prosecutions. State v. Gerstmann, 198 N.J. Super. 175, 179 (App.Div.1985). Therefore, the double jeopardy clause would not apply in a filiation suit (referred to previously as a bastardy case) because such proceedings are essentially civil in nature.

Bastardy is not a crime in New Jersey. A proceeding against a putative father is essentially a civil, not a criminal one. As indicated above, the primary objective is to compel the father who begot the illegitimate child to assume the duty of supporting it and secondarily to relieve the public of that obligation. [citations omitted] An adverse verdict on the issue of paternity does not establish a criminal record against the father. [ State v. Clark, 58 N.J. 72, 78 (1971)]

Accordingly, the defense of double jeopardy is not available to defendant.

Defendant next asserts the affirmative defenses of res judicata and collateral estoppel. The doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel involve the effect of a judgment in a subsequent independent legal proceeding, and should not be confused with the doctrine of estoppel which involves conduct of, or a representation made by, a person. See 46 Am.Jur. 2d, Judgments, ยงยง 398-399.

Literally, res judicata means a matter adjudged. . . . [It is] an existing final judgment rendered upon the merits, without fraud or collusion, by a court of competent jurisdiction, [and] is conclusive of causes of action and of facts or issues thereby litigated as to the parties and their privies, in all other actions in the same or any ...

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