Under the unique facts, the Second Department determined Family Court should not have applied the doctrine of collateral estoppel to prohibit Omar from contesting paternity. Omar had signed an acknowledgment of paternity two days after the child was born. However, twice thereafter Omar filed petitions to vacate his acknowledgment supported by DNA tests:
Family Court should have declined to apply the doctrine of collateral estoppel. ” Collateral estoppel, an equitable doctrine, is based upon the general notion that a party, or one in privity with a party, should not be permitted to relitigate an issue decided against it'” … . “[W]hether to apply collateral estoppel in a particular case depends upon general notions of fairness involving a practical inquiry into the realities of the litigation'” … . The doctrine is highly flexible in nature, and should not be rigidly or mechanically applied, even where its technical requirements are met … . “[T]he fundamental inquiry is whether relitigation should be permitted in a particular case in light of what are often competing policy considerations, including fairness to the parties, conservation of the resources of the court and the litigants, and the societal interests in consistent and accurate results. No rigid rules are possible, because even these factors may vary in relative importance depending on the nature of the proceedings” … .
Here, the nature of the proceedings is highly relevant, as it involves the determination of the paternity of a child not yet seven years of age. Although Omar executed an acknowledgment of paternity two days after the subject child’s birth in November 2009, he obtained, in 2011, a private DNA test indicating that he could not be the father. In 2013, the mother consented to the vacatur of the acknowledgment of paternity based upon the results of a second DNA test. Moreover, at a 2014 court appearance, the mother advised the Support Magistrate, in contrast to statements she made in connection with Omar’s first petition, that she was involved in an ongoing sexual relationship with Britton at the time of the child’s conception. Under these circumstances, there is potential merit to Omar’s second petition … . It is also significant to note that neither Omar nor the mother was represented by counsel in connection with Omar’s first petition … , and that Omar was still unrepresented when the Support Magistrate instructed him to file a second petition after he unsuccessfully attempted to restore the first petition.
Taking into consideration the particular facts of this case, we are persuaded that application of the doctrine of collateral estoppel would not promote fairness to the parties. Matter of Kaori (Omar J.–Shalette S.), 2016 NY Slip Op 07649, 2nd Dept 11-16-16
FAMILY LAW (PATERNITY, FAMILY COURT SHOULD NOT HAVE APPLIED THE DOCTRINE OF COLLATERAL ESTOPPEL TO DENY A PETITION TO VACATE AN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PATERNITY)/PATERNITY (FAMILY COURT SHOULD NOT HAVE APPLIED THE DOCTRINE OF COLLATERAL ESTOPPEL TO DENY A PETITION TO VACATE AN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PATERNITY)/COLLATERAL ESTOPPEL (FAMILY LAW, PATERNITY, FAMILY COURT SHOULD NOT HAVE APPLIED THE DOCTRINE OF COLLATERAL ESTOPPEL TO DENY A PETITION TO VACATE AN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PATERNITY)