Law School Case Brief
Hodge v. Craig - 382 S.W.3d 325 (Tenn. 2012)
Misrepresentations to a prospective spouse that he is an unborn child's biological father go to the essence of the marital relationship. Accordingly, and in light of the historically broad reach of common-law actions for intentional misrepresentation, Tennessee Supreme Court has determined that the public policy of Tennessee, reflected in the Constitution of Tennessee and the statutes enacted by the general assembly, does not prevent the former spouse of a child's mother from pursuing common-law damage claims against the child's mother based on her intentional misrepresentations regarding the identity of the child's biological father.
Although Tina Marie Hodge (Hodge) had sexual intercourse with Chadwick Craig (Craig) and Joey Hay during the period when her son was conceived, she told Craig that he was the father and no one else could be. Based on these assurances, he proposed marriage. The parties later divorced but Craig paid child support for years. He filed suit after DNA tests confirmed his suspicion that the child was not his. Craig filed a suit seeking for $150,000 in compensatory damages and $150,000 in punitive damages, alleging intentional and or negligent misrepresentation on the part of Hodge. Based on the factual findings, the trial court concluded that Hodge purposely defrauded Craig into believing the child was his, knowing she had sexual relations with Joey Hay at the time the child was conceived. The trial court awarded Craig $23,030.24, representing the total child support paid by Craig, and $2,214.20, representing medical expenses and insurance premiums paid by Craig. The intermediate appellate court agreed that Hodge intentionally misrepresented her son’s paternity, but reversed the damage award based on post-divorce child support payments, finding this amounted to an improper retroactive modification of a child support order. Craig sought review of the judgment of the intermediate appellate court.
Did the award of damages to Craig constitute an improper retroactive modification of a child support order?
The Supreme Court of Tennessee held that a former husband could bring a common-law intentional misrepresentation claim against his former spouse based on her intentional misrepresentations that he was the child's father. Craig proved the elements of such a claim, and awarding him damages based on his post-divorce payments of child support, medical costs, and insurance premiums was not a retroactive modification of child support prohibited by Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-101(f)(1), as the award did have the effect of reducing or extinguishing any child support arrearages.
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