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Sieglein v. Schmidt

Court of Appeals of Maryland

May 20, 2016

STEPHEN SIEGLEIN
v.
LAURA SCHMIDT

          Argued: April 1, 2016

         Circuit Court for Harford County, Maryland Case No. 12-C-12-001211

          Barbera, C.J. [*] Battaglia Greene Adkins McDonald Watts, Rodowsky, Lawrence F. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          BATTAGLIA, J.

         The primary issue we address in the present case is whether the use of the term "artificial insemination" in Section 1-206(b) of the Estates & Trusts Article of the Maryland Code[1] encompasses only a specific procreation technique of artificial insemination or whether the term more broadly encompasses any methodology wherein human reproduction is achieved by artificial means. The issue is queued up in this case, because Laura Schmidt, Respondent, wife of Stephen Sieglein, Petitioner, delivered a child through in vitro fertilization (IVF)[2] using donated sperm.

         Mr. Sieglein, who the Circuit Court found to be the father of the child, was also determined to have voluntarily impoverished himself with respect to child support, as well as had injunctive relief entered against him based on harassment. He asks us to consider the following questions:

1. Whether the "plain meaning" of Md. Code Ann. 'ET' § 1-206(b) can be interpreted to include a case of "in vitro" fertilization from a donated egg and donated sperm, as a result of which Petitioner has been declared a "parent" of the child and thereby liable for child support, even though the child has no genetic connection to either of the parties?
2.Whether the "plain meaning" of Md. Code Ann. 'FL' § 1-203(a)(2) can be interpreted to sustain a permanent injunction against Petitioner on the basis of "harassment"?
3. Whether the long settled meaning of "voluntary impoverishment" has been ignored by the decisions of the Courts below?

Sieglein v. Schmidt, 445 Md. 487, 128 A.3d 51 (2015).

         We shall hold that the term "artificial insemination" in Section 1-206(b) of the Estates and Trusts Article encompasses in vitro fertilization utilizing donated sperm. We shall further hold that the Circuit Court Judge did not err in finding that Mr. Sieglein voluntarily impoverished himself nor in granting Ms. Schmidt's request for a permanent injunction.

         The facts of this case are, for the most part, undisputed. Stephen Sieglein and Laura Schmidt were married in 2008 in Havre de Grace, Maryland and resided together in Abingdon until 2012. Prior to the marriage, Mr. Sieglein had one biological child, an adult, from a previous relationship, as did Ms. Schmidt. After the birth of his child Mr. Sieglein had undergone a vasectomy. Although Ms. Schmidt desired to have another child, Mr. Sieglein refused to have his vasectomy reversed. He did, however, accompany Ms. Schmidt to the Shady Grove Fertility Reproductive Science Center ("Shady Grove") as well as support the process of obtaining medical assistance to conceive a child.

         Both Ms. Schmidt and Mr. Sieglein signed an "Assisted Reproduction: In Vitro Fertilization, Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection, Assisted Hatching, and Embryo Freezing Consent" form in January of 2010. The form required both parties to indicate which "elements of the IVF treatment you agree to undertake in your upcoming IVF treatment cycle." Ms. Schmidt and Mr. Sieglein agreed to undertake In Vitro Fertilization, [3] Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection, [4] Assisted Hatching[5] and Embryo Cryopreservation.[6] Additionally, they both acknowledged by signature that they had been "fully advised of the purpose, risk and benefits" of the procedures to which they consented and were participating "free from pressure and coercion":

I/We have been fully advised of the purpose, risks and benefits of each of the procedures indicated above, as well as Assisted Reproduction generally, and have been informed of the available alternatives and risks and benefits of such alternatives. This information has been supplemented by my/our consultation with my/our medical team. I/We have had the opportunity to ask questions and all my/our questions have been answered to my/our satisfaction.
I/We have read the Assisted Reproduction document in its entirety and have had ample time to reach my/our decision, free from pressure and coercion, and agree to proceed with my/our participation in Assisted Reproduction services as stated above.

(emphasis added).

         A son was born in 2012; his birth certificate listed Ms. Schmidt under the section for the mother's name and Mr. Sieglein under the section for the father's name. The parties separated shortly thereafter, however, and Ms. Schmidt filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Harford County for a limited divorce on the grounds of cruelty and vicious conduct against her and her children, as well based upon voluntary separation; she also requested child support. Mr. Sieglein generally denied the allegations of the complaint as well as that he was the father of the boy; he, thereafter, filed a motion requesting that the court determine "whether or not [he was] a 'parent' as that term is employed and understood under Maryland law, so as to obligate him under [Ms. Schmidt's] claim for child support."

         A hearing on Mr. Sieglein's motion and Ms. Schmidt's request for child support was held in the fall of 2012. Judge William Carr of the Circuit Court for Harford County issued a memorandum opinion and order in which he found that Mr. Sieglein was the parent of the child and, therefore, was obligated to pay child support:

[T]he Estates and Trusts Article unequivocally states that a child conceived via the artificial insemination of a married woman with the consent of her husband is the legitimate child of both spouses. Additionally, § 1-206(b) creates a presumption that a husband consented to the IVF process.
The facts the Defendant brings forth may demonstrate that he did not want to be a parent, but they do not rebut the presumption of consent to the IVF Treatment, and they do not show that he did not consent to creating a child. The Defendant married the Plaintiff in 2008. When the Plaintiff expressed a desire to have a child, the Defendant accompanied her to a fertility clinic to explore the IVF process, and they both signed the consent forms for the IVF treatment. The Defendant remained in the marital home with the Plaintiff throughout the pregnancy, and his name appears on the child's birth certificate as the father.
[T]he presumption in § 1-206(b) is that the Defendant consented to the artificial insemination process, making the child the legitimate child of the Defendant. . . . [He] jointly engaged in efforts with the Plaintiff to create a child, and it is in the best interest of the child to receive support and care from both parents.

(internal citations omitted). The court did not, however, determine the amount of the child support.

         The parties appeared in December of 2012 before Judge Angela Eaves of the Circuit Court for Harford County for a pendente lite hearing on custody, visitation and child support. Prior to the hearing, Ms. Schmidt filed an amended complaint for limited divorce in which she sought sole legal custody of the boy, child support and injunctive relief under Section 1-203(a)(2) of the Family Law Article, which provides for the issuance of an injunction to "protect any party to the action from physical harm or harassment." Maryland Code (1974, 2012 Repl. Vol.), Section 1-203(a)(2) of the Family Law Article. In support of her amended complaint, Ms. Schmidt relied on a protective order issued by the District Court of Maryland for Harford County that ordered Mr. Sieglein to vacate the family home, to cease harassment of Ms. Schmidt, to refrain from contacting Ms. Schmidt and to stay away from her place of employment.

         During the December 2012 hearing, Mr. Sieglein attempted to re-litigate the issue of parentage and iterated that he did not seek custody or visitation. Judge Eaves, however, declined to revisit the issue of paternity, stating that Judge Carr had previously addressed that issue, having determined that Mr. Sieglein was one of the boy's parents. Judge Eaves, however, did make a determination that Mr. Sieglein, who was unemployed at the time of the hearing, had voluntarily impoverished himself, [7] based upon a number of factors:

I am making a finding that he is voluntarily impoverished, first stating that he is not going to support [the child] in any way; second, from then having other assets and resources at his disposal that he has chosen to use only for his benefit, but not necessarily even in a way that's financially prudent.
He has a renter that left . . . [h]e has that property available. He has a mortgage of $800, but he chooses to then spend $350 a month to live elsewhere. . . In this case, also the fact that he took out - - used funds from the money market account in order to only pay his own living expenses and not pay anything towards the child's expenses[.] Even though he could incur a penalty for early withdrawals of the IRA account, he still has some ability there, but he has chosen not to undertake any responsibility whatsoever with respect to this child[.]

         Mr. Sieglein's potential income became the focal point of the child support calculation.[8] In January of 2013 sole physical and legal custody of the boy was granted to Ms. Schmidt, while Mr. Sieglein was ordered to pay monthly child support of $1049.00. An additional $100.00 per month was ordered to reduce Mr. Sieglein's child support arrearage of $7, 171.00, covering the period from May 2012 to December 2012.

         Ms. Schmidt was granted an absolute divorce in 2013. A final hearing to determine child support and to address her request for injunctive relief was held in February of 2014. At the hearing, Mr. Sieglein testified that he was a college graduate, had been an employee of Sysco Food Services until resigning in 2012 and was unemployed from mid November 2012 until December of 2013. He acknowledged that he was the former husband of Ms. Schmidt and had recently started working as a driver for a frozen food delivery service. Mr. Sieglein also testified that while unemployed he received unemployment benefits and additional income from a rental property he owned prior to the marriage.[9] Mr. Sieglein urged he had not voluntarily impoverished himself, but proffered evidence of his search for employment through copies of forms logging efforts to find work during his period of unemployment. Upon cross-examination, Mr. Sieglein admitted to making 90 contacts during his twelve-month term of unemployment, several of which were repeated. He also testified that he had been employed for eight days in August 2013 as a trainee with Business Machines, but that his position was terminated after he had requested that the company enter a later start date to enable him to continue to receive unemployment because of unpaid training time.

         Ms. Schmidt testified in support of her request for a permanent injunction to protect her from physical harm or harassment. She recounted several instances of Mr. Sieglein's circling around her, getting in line near her and approaching and intimidating her at the church attended by both of them, in violation of the protective order.

         At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Eaves determined, after considering Mr. Sieglein's physical condition, education, employment changes, relationship to Ms. Schmidt, efforts to find and retain employment and past work history, that Mr. Sieglein had voluntarily impoverished himself, she stated that, "There is an effort to not – to not maintain employment to the extent that he was employed with Sysco . . . a pattern of Mr. Sieglein not wanting to pay child support in this case for a child already determined to be his." She then calculated a child support payment from Mr. Sieglein to Ms. Schmidt of $1, 007.00 monthly on behalf of the boy.

         With respect to Ms. Schmidt's request for a permanent injunction, the court stated:

[Mr. Sieglein's] credibility suffers with this Court. The manner in which he testifies, his ability only to recall events favorable to him in this case and the fact that he is less than honest in his dealings with respect to Ms. Schmidt. . . . Circling around her when he knows she is present . . . There is a protective order in place. Getting in line behind her when you know it is her means that you walk away because there is a protective order in place.
I do think [Mr. Sieglein] is playing fast and loose with the Court's order in this matter and accordingly, I'm going to order him to stay 75 yards away from [Ms. Schmidt] and the children and to have no contact. No contact means not in person, by telephone, in writing or through third-parties in this case. And that will extend past the duration of the current protective order that is in effect.

         Mr. Sieglein appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, which affirmed in a reported opinion, Sieglein v. Schmidt, 224 Md.App. 222, 227, 120 A.3d 790, 793 (2015).[10] The court, reviewing Section 1-206(b) of the Estates and Trusts Article, held that "a child conceived via artificial insemination or IVF with the consent of the parties and born during a marriage is the legitimate child of the marriage and legal parentage is established as to both spouses", id. at 243, 120 A.3d at 802, because:

By enacting ET § 1-206(b), the General Assembly envinced its intention to acknowledge the role of medically assisted, non-traditional conception of a child in establishing a parent's rights and obligations.

Id. at 242, 120 A.3d at 802. The court further concluded that the circuit court had not abused its discretion in granting a permanent injunction to Ms. Schmidt nor in finding Mr. Sieglein had voluntarily impoverished himself. Sieglein, 224 Md.App. at 246-52, 120 A.3d at 805-08.

         The threshold question before us involves our interpretation of the term "artificial insemination" in Section 1-206(b) of the Estates and Trusts Article, which provides that:

(a) A child born or conceived during a marriage is presumed to be the legitimate child of both spouses. Except as provided in § 1-207 of this subtitle, a child born at any time after his parents have participated in a marriage ceremony with each other, even if the marriage is invalid, is presumed to be the legitimate child of both parents.
(b)A child conceived by artificial insemination of a married woman with the consent of her husband is the legitimate child of both of them for all purposes. Consent of the husband is presumed.

         Maryland Code (1974, 2011 Repl. Vol.) (emphasis added).[11] We have often articulated the process of statutory interpretation as:

In statutory interpretation, our primary goal is always to discern the legislative purpose, the ends to be accomplished, or the evils to be remedied by a particular provision, be it statutory, constitutional or part of the Rules. We begin our analysis by first looking to the normal, plain meaning of the language of the statute, reading the statute as a whole to ensure that no word, clause, sentence or phrase is rendered surplusage, superfluous, meaningless or nugatory. Further, an interpretation should be given to the statutory provisions that does not lead to absurd consequences. If the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, we need not look beyond the statute's provisions and our analysis ends. If, however, the language is subject to more than one interpretation, or when the terms are ambiguous when it is part of a larger statutory scheme, it is ambiguous, and we endeavor to resolve that ambiguity by looking to the statute's legislative history, case law, statutory purpose, as well as the structure of the statute.

Anderson v. Council of Unit Owners of Gables on Tuckerman Condominium, 404 Md. 560, 571-72, 948 A.2d 11, 18-19 (2008) (internal citations omitted) (internal quotation omitted). Thus, our initial inquiry is whether the term "artificial insemination" in Section 1-206(b) is clear and unambiguous.

         Mr. Sieglein argues that the term "artificial insemination" has a plain meaning that refers to only one procedure, specifically, that being intrauterine insemination.[12] He argues that in vitro fertilization, the procedure utilized in the present case, should be excluded from the definition because it was not a procedure known about in 1969, when the provisions of Section 1-206(b) were introduced into our statutory scheme. Ms. Schmidt argues, conversely, that the term "artificial insemination" relates to any "medical process" used to aid the woman in becoming pregnant "without sexual intercourse, " as currently reflected not only in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, www.merriam-webster.com, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/artificial%20insemination (https://perma.cc/ZT6D-VCDY), but also in Magill's Medical Guide, Magill's Medical Guide 231 (6th ed. Salem Health 2011), in which "artificial insemination" is under the collective heading of "Assisted Reproductive Technology."

         The term "artificial insemination" is not defined anywhere in the Maryland Annotated Code. Past and present dictionary definitions abound regarding the term, in addition to Meriam-Webster's definition and the McGill Medical Guide. The 1961 edition of Webster's Third New International Dictionary defined the term as the "introduction of semen into the uterus or oviduct by other than natural means." Webster's Third New International Dictionary Unabridged, 124 (1961). "Inseminate" in 1961 included two definitions; "to sow or sow in" and "to introduce semen into (the female genital tract) by coitus or by other means." Webster's Third New International Dictionary Unabridged, 1168 (1961).

         Black's Medical Dictionary has provided that, "Artificial insemination is the introduction of semen into the vagina by artificial means." Black's Medical Dictionary, 65 (26th ed. 1965). Stedman's Medical Dictionary defines "artificial insemination" as the "introduction of semen into the vagina other than by coitus." Stedman's Medical Dictionary, 982 (28th ed. 2007).

         In 1965, Black's Medical Dictionary, 65 (26th ed. 1965), recognized, "There are two forms of artificial insemination: AIH and AID. In AIH . . . the semen is obtained from the husband. In AID . . . the semen is obtained from a man other than the woman's husband." See also Ausman & Snyder's Medical Library, Lawyer's Edition, § 1:32 (1988) (Homologous Insemination refers to the use of the husband's sperm while Heterologous Insemination deals with the use of donated sperm). In addition, multiple techniques for introducing the sperm into the woman also have existed; intrafollicular, intraperitoneal, intratubal and intrauterine.[13]

         The term "artificial insemination", thus, had and continues to have a number of meanings, generally related to artificial reproduction. Though one meaning referred specifically to the placement of sperm in a woman's body, the term has sometimes been used more broadly to refer to assisted reproduction. As a result, Mr. Sieglein's contention that artificial insemination has a plain meaning which referred only to one specific reproductive technique is without merit.

         Rather, by reference to the legislative history of Section 1-206(b) of the Estates and Trusts Article we can glean its legislative intent. The Section was added in 1969 to Article 93 entitled "Decedent's Estates", Chapter 3 of the Maryland Laws of 1969, in order to address the effect on legitimacy of the use of donated sperm.[14] The Report of the Commission to Review and Revise the Testamentary Law of Maryland ("Governor's Commission") commented on the addition of Section 1-206(b):

Subsection (b) is new. It is derived from 2-111(b) (UPC). The Commission feels that this addition is desirable in view of the increased use of artificial insemination and the lack of ...

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