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Epps v. Hopper


November 10, 2008


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FD-09-2014-05.

Per curiam.



Submitted October 23, 2008

Before Judges Winkelstein and Fuentes.

Plaintiff Tamara Epps appeals from the order of the Family Part denying her application challenging the results of a genetic test that ruled out defendant George Hopper as the father of her two children. We affirm.

We gather the following facts based on the record available to us. By order dated August 11, 2005, the Family Part directed the parties to submit to DNA testing to determine whether defendant was the father of plaintiff's two children (twins), born on November 17, 2003. The order also provided for a "prior order to continue." That prior order fixed defendant's child support obligation at seventy-five dollars per week, consisting of sixty-five dollars for support, and ten dollars to be applied toward arrears.

The record before us contains a document labeled "Sample Collector's Statement." This document, dated August 11, 2005, reflects a certification from Betty Crawford, indicating that on that date, at 3:10 p.m., she was the individual who collected the genetic material from the parties. Specifically, the certification signed by Crawford reads as follows: "I have drawn, collected, packaged and sealed these sample(s), I have witnessed the preceding signature(s), and I have no legal interest in the final outcome of the genetic testing."

On August 22, 2005, Cheryl Kiernan, a staff member with the Hudson County Probation Department, received the results of the genetic test performed by Orchid GeneScreen Laboratories. Two tests were performed, one for each child. The Genetic Test Reports, dated August 17, 2005, show that genetic material was obtained from both parties and the children. Both reports exclude defendant as the father, reflecting a zero percent "Probability of Paternity." The reports are certified as truthful and accurate by Laboratory Director Marco Scarpetta, Ph.D.

In light of this evidence, by order dated September 16, 2005, the court vacated a wage execution order against defendant, vacated all child support retroactive to July 1, 2005, and vacated all child support arrears "due to Tamara Epps and Welfare." The order also includes the following handwritten statement: "The DNA/HLA testing results excludes George Hopper as the biological father of the child."

Approximately two years thereafter, on September 26, 2007, plaintiff appeared pro se before the Family Part, challenging the DNA test results. Although not entirely clear from the record developed before the court, it seems that plaintiff claimed that the test results were unreliable and inadmissible because the person who took the genetic material from her was not the same person who received the test reports. The following colloquy between plaintiff and the trial judge illustrates the point:

PLAINTIFF: Okay. She goes along. She swabs our mouth. Her name is Betty Crawford. She was the swabber [sic] within this case. Okay. The results came back. Since August the 15th, 2005, however. Then you got the professional technician, and which she says she didn't do it. Now, all of a sudden, she comes along and says she done -- she did it.

THE COURT: What are you talking about, the professional technician that says she didn't do it?

PLAINTIFF: Professional technician. Her name is Cheryl Kiernan. Her signature is down also.

It appears from this passage, that plaintiff misunderstood the role Kiernan played as the staff member from the Hudson County Probation Department who received the test reports from the genetic laboratory. It seems that plaintiff incorrectly believed that Kiernan was alleging to have been the individual who swabbed her mouth, rather than Crawford. Plaintiff uses this misapprehension as a basis to impugn the validity of the test results.

Based on this record, we are satisfied that plaintiff's arguments lack sufficient merit to warrant further discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).



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