Indiana Court of Appeals Affirms Trial Court’s Denial of Fertility Doctor and Fertility Clinic’s Motion to Dismiss

The Indiana Court of Appeals in Anonymous Physician 1 v. White affirmed the trial court’s denial of a motion to dismiss filed by a fertility doctor and fertility clinic in a lawsuit against the fertility doctor for using his own sperm in artificially inseminating a patient in the early 1980s. The lawsuit filed on behalf of the patient and her son alleged breach of contract and medical malpractice.

The patient went to the fertility doctor for help becoming pregnant. The fertility doctor and the patient entered into a contract that provided that the doctor would artificially inseminate the patient with donor sperm from an anonymous medical school resident, and the doctor was supposed to use the donor sperm in no more than three successful artificial insemination procedures. As a result of the artificial insemination, the patient became pregnant and gave birth to a son in 1982. After learning in 2016 that the doctor had used his own sperm, the patient and her son filed a lawsuit.

The doctor and clinic filed a motion to dismiss the son’s claim arguing he had not established he was a third-party beneficiary to the contract with his mother, that he had failed to sufficiently state a claim for negligence because no duty was owed to him, and that he had failed to state a claim for compensable injuries. A motion to dismiss under Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint as to whether some facts have been stated giving rise to a legally actionable injury. Courts accept alleged facts as true and view them and all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant. Under Indiana’s notice pleading standard, a complaint only needs to contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing entitlement to relief. Allegations are sufficient if they put a reasonable person on notice as to why the plaintiff is suing. Motions to dismiss are disfavored as they undermine the policy of deciding cases on their merits.

To enforce a contract as a third-party beneficiary, a person much show (1) clear intent by the actual parties to the contract to benefit the third party, (2) a duty imposed on one of the contracting parties in favor of the third party, and (3) performance of the contract terms is necessary to render the third party a direct benefit intended by the parties to the contract. While not deciding the son was a third-party beneficiary, the Court found the allegations in the complaint established a set of circumstances under which the son would be entitled to relief as a third-party beneficiary.

As to the son’s negligence claim, the Court reviewed Indiana precedent establishing that in some cases medical providers have been found to owe a duty of care to the children of their patients. To prove negligence, a plaintiff must show (1) a duty owed to the plaintiff by the defendant, (2) a breach of that duty by allowing conduct to fall below the applicable standard of care, and (3) a compensable injury caused by the defendant’s breach. Here, the Court found that the son had stated sufficient facts necessary to establish the fertility doctor and clinic owed him a duty of care.

As to whether the son stated a claim for compensable injuries, the Court distinguished the son’s claims from claims alleging “wrongful life,” which are not allowed under Indiana law, and claims sometimes referred to as “wrongful birth.” The Court found, in claiming physical and emotional injuries, the son had established a set of circumstances under which he would be entitled to damages proximately caused by the fertility doctor and fertility clinic’s breach of duty. The Court noted the son may be entitled to emotional distress damages, depending on the facts proved.

Having sufficiently stated claims for breach of contract and tort claims for which relief could be granted, the Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the doctor and clinic’s motion to dismiss.

You can read the full opinion here.

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