Man Can't Choose Private DNA Lab in County Paternity Battle

By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 14, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Can your client refuse a state-ordered paternity test on privacy grounds?

E.M.'s mother receives public assistance from San Diego County on behalf of E.M. To offset public expense, the mother had to assign to the County the right to any child support up to the amount of that assistance. The County then had an interest in finding E.M.'s father.

The County filed a complaint against Michel Mason in 2010 to establish Mason as E.M.'s father, and to establish the amount of child support Mason was to pay the County on E.M.'s behalf. Mason denied being the father and requested a paternity test. He also filed a declaration detailing the DNA collection process and chain of evidence for Genetic Profiles Corporation, a private paternity DNA testing laboratory in San Diego. Mason wanted the testing to be conducted by Genetic Profiles rather than the County's contracted laboratory, LabCorp.

Mason said he didn't know what would happen to his DNA once the County-contracted company took his sample, and therefore claimed his constitutional right to privacy gave him the right to control who could take his DNA sample and what they could do with it.

The County responded that it had an interest in using, and was statutorily required to use its contracted laboratory to ensure the proper chain of custody and procedures were in place. The court agreed with the County, but decided to stay enforcement of its order so that Mason could file a writ petition in the appellate court. Both the appellate court and the California Supreme Court summarily denied his petitions.

(Sidebar: At first blush, it sounds like Mason is just being fussy, but California does maintain a DNA database. Granted, that's a collection of DNA samples from all adults in the state arrested for felonies, but Mason's concern isn't completely unreasonable.)

When Mason refused to submit to DNA testing at the County's lab, the court entered a judgment of paternity based on Mason's refusal to submit to the paternity test.

The sole issue on appeal was whether, in a paternity determination proceeding where the government bears the burden of proof, an alleged father has a constitutional right to prevent a government contracted laboratory from conducting a paternity test and to instead select a private laboratory to conduct the test.

Here, the court explained that information obtained by a government agency for the purpose of establishing paternity, (i.e., a person's DNA), is specifically protected from examination, release, or disclosure for any purpose not directly related to the administration and implementation of child support.

In other words, state law protected Mason's privacy interests, and there was no evidence in the record to indicate that the laboratory would intentionally or unintentionally violate Mason's privacy interest by sharing or disclosing his DNA information.

A man can refuse to hand his DNA over to a government-contracted lab for a paternity test, but a court will then presume paternity and demand child support.

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