Father sues ex-girlfriend, Utah lawyers, adoptive parents for stealing custody of his daughter
Six years after his daughter was placed for adoption in Utah without his knowledge or consent, Robert Manzanares is still fighting back.
On Tuesday, Manzanares filed a lawsuit in Utah's federal district court alleging his former girlfriend, the adoptive parents and the attorneys who represented them colluded to deprive him of his parental rights and essentially kidnapped his daughter.
Manzanares, who is being represented by Salt Lake attorney Wes Hutchins, is seeking at least $120 million in damages.
Attorneys David Hardy and Larry Jenkins, who are named in the lawsuit and represented birth mother Carie Terry Morelock and adoptive parents Scott and Julissa Byington, declined to comment Tuesday. Hardy took over representation of Morelock from another attorney, who is not named in the case.
In the lawsuit, Manzanares alleges that what happened to him is a "clear-cut case of an illegal fraud-ridden infant adoption."
The Utah Supreme Court essentially agreed in January 2012, when it overturned a lower court judge's decision barring Manzanares from intervening to stop the adoption.
The adoption proceeding was dismissed in Utah and the case resumed in Colorado, where Manzanares had filed a paternity petition in January 2008, a month before his daughter's premature birth on Feb. 17, 2008.
He is awaiting a decision from a Colorado judge, who is weighing Manzanares' request for full custody of the child.
Morelock had denied in court papers filed in response to the paternity petition that she had any intention of giving birth in and pursuing an adoption in Utah.
But days after making that claim, Morelock traveled to Utah on the pretense of visiting a sick relative. She contacted the Colorado court Feb. 20, 2008, three days after giving birth, and said she would not be at a hearing scheduled for that morning because she was out of town.
That same day, Morelock appeared before former 3rd District Judge Robert Hilder and relinquished her parental rights to the Byingtons, her brother and sister-in-law.
Morelock did not disclose to either court that legal proceedings were underway in the two states; she also did not tell the Colorado court she had given birth and was proceeding with an adoption.
Manzanares learned Feb. 25, 2008, from someone who worked with Morelock that the child had already been born. He filed an emergency motion with the Colorado court, which entered a paternity finding days later.
Manzanares then moved to assert his rights in Utah.
In the lawsuit, Manzanares alleges that the two attorneys "encouraged" Morelock to engage in the fraudulent behavior and perpetuated other adoptions "even though they were first achieved through fraudulent conduct."
The lawsuit alleges racketeering, fraud, conspiracy, emotional distress and interference with parental rights, among other things, and asserts that Morelock, the attorneys and the adoptive parents acted together to prevent Manzanares from associating with his daughter.
"Utah's pro-adoption and anti-birth father laws, facilitated through fraud immunity, have given rise to a greater number of out-of-state birth mothers from shopping Utah," the lawsuit states, "and through their own efforts, aided by legal counsel, and in some cases by the prospective adoptive parents, they have been able to successfully place their babies through misrepresentation and fraud keeping biological fathers in the dark through the process."