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Rousseau v. Coates

United States District Court, D. Vermont

July 17, 2019



          William K. Sessions III District Court Judge

         In 1977, Dr. John Boyd Coates agreed to artificially inseminate Cheryl Rousseau with genetic material from an unnamed medical student. Cheryl and her husband Peter now claim that, unbeknownst to them until very recently, Dr. Coates in fact used his own genetic material and is the biological father of their daughter. The Complaint against Dr. Coates and Central Vermont Medical Center, Inc. (“CVMC”) asserts several causes of action, including medical negligence, fraud, and breach of contract.

         Defendants have each moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. For the reasons set forth below, Dr. Coates's motion to dismiss is denied. CVMC's motion to dismiss is granted, all claims against CVMC are dismissed without prejudice, and the Rousseaus are granted leave to amend their Complaint.

         Factual Background

         Jurisdiction in this case is based upon diversity, as Cheryl and Peter Rousseau are citizens of Florida, Dr. Coates is a citizen of Vermont, and CVMC is located in Berlin, Vermont. For purposes of the pending motions to dismiss, the allegations in the Complaint will generally be accepted as true.

         The Rousseaus were married in October 1974. Once married, they explored conceiving a child through artificial insemination. They met with Dr. Coates, who agreed to perform the insemination procedure using genetic material from an unnamed medical student. Dr. Coates informed the Rousseaus that the unnamed student resembled Peter Rousseau, met specific characteristics that Cheryl Rousseau required, and had been tested for the purpose of being a donor of genetic material. Dr. Coates also required Peter Rousseau to retain counsel and agree in a written contract to adopt any child born as a result of the procedure.

         Dr. Coates allegedly performed the procedure twice on Cheryl Rousseau, both times at Central Vermont Hospital (now CVMC). Although he had pledged to use the genetic material of the aforementioned anonymous medical student, the Rousseaus claim that Dr. Coates instead used his own genetic material. As a result, Dr. Coates is allegedly the father of the Rousseaus' daughter, born December 27, 1977.

         Dr. Coates continued to serve as Cheryl Rousseau's obstetrician and gynecologist for a year after the child's birth. Although he allegedly knew that he was the father, he never disclosed that fact to the Rousseaus or their daughter. Dr. Coates currently denies the allegation that he used his own genetic material to impregnate Cheryl Rousseau, and denies that he is the biological father of her daughter.

         In October of 2018, the Rousseaus' daughter, now known as Barbara Mary Frances Gordon, used DNA testing in an effort to learn more about her biological father. When she received the results of that testing, she allegedly learned that Dr. Coates was her genetic father.

         The Complaint presents nine causes of action: medical negligence; failure to obtain informed consent; fraud; battery; negligent infliction of emotional distress; intentional infliction of emotional distress; breach of contract; violation of the Consumer Protection Act; and negligent supervision by CVMC. CVMC is also alleged to be liable on the basis of respondeat superior.

         Dr. Coates and CVMC have each moved to dismiss the Complaint. Dr. Coates argues that this case centers on paternity and is governed by the Vermont Parentage Act. The Vermont Parentage Act provides procedures for genetic testing, but prohibits testing of an anonymous donor. Dr. Coates submits that the statutory prohibition prevents the Rousseaus from proving their case. He also contends that subject matter jurisdiction is lacking under the domestic relations exception to diversity jurisdiction. CVMC argues that the Complaint fails to state a plausible claim that Dr. Coates was its employee or agent, that it had no duty to supervise, and that it cannot be held liable for his actions.

         The Rousseaus submit that the focus of this case is Dr. Coates's fraudulent acts, that compliance with the Vermont Parentage Act is therefore not required, and that the domestic relations exception does not apply. In response to CVMC's motion to dismiss, the Rousseaus argue that the motion cannot be granted because it relies upon facts outside the Complaint.


         I. Dr. Coates's Motions to Dismiss A. ...

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