Atkinson v. Hall
556 A.2d 651 (1989)

  • Atkinson was dating Hall.  Hall went to prison.  Atkinson started dating Marshall while continuing to visit Hall in prison.
    • At some point, Atkinson got pregnant.
  • Atkinson married Marshall, but told Hall that the baby was his.
    • The birth certificate listed Marshall as the father.
  • Marshall and Atkinson got divorced.  Atkinson was supposed to get child support, but Marshall turned out to be a deadbeat.
  • Atkinson eventually gave up on getting any money out of Marshall and sued Hall for child support.
  • At trial, there was a debate about what presumptions should be given in the jury instructions.
    • Atkinson had a blood test that showed that Hall was the father.  Under Maine law (19 M.R.S.A. §280), a blood test created a presumption of paternity that can only be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence.
      • Hall would be responsible for presenting evidence to rebut the presumption.
    •  Hall argued that under a different Statute in Maine law (M.R.Evid. 302), when child is born within wedlock there is a presumption that the husband is the father, and this presumption can only be rebutted by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
      • Atkinson would be responsible for presenting evidence to rebut the presumption.
  • The Trial Judge recognized that there was a conflict of laws.  Therefore he decided to disregard both presumptions and instruct the jury that Atkinson had the burden of proving her case by a preponderance of evidence (the standard in civil litigation).
  • The Trial Court found for Hall.  Atkinson appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court looked to M.R.Evid. 301(c) (similar to FRE 301), and found that if two presumptions conflict, the court should apply the presumption which is founded on the weightier considerations of policy and logic.
      • The Court found that logic (and science) would presume Hall was the father.
      • The Court found that policy should presume that the husband is always the father.
    • Since there was a split between logic and policy one side was not founded on weightier grounds than the other, it made sense to go with the preponderance of the evidence standard, and was within the Trial Judge’s discretion.