State to pay legal fees in mistaken paternity case

FROM THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

After wrongfully pursuing a paternity case against a man whose name was chosen in “some random fashion,’’ the Florida Department of Revenue is required to pay his attorney’s fees, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal overturned a circuit judge’s decision in the Miami-Dade County case and said Guillermo D. Lopez should be able to recoup attorney’s fees.

The department runs the state’s child-support system. It contacted Lopez in August 2011 and said he had been named by a woman as the father of her child. Lopez said he didn’t know the woman and fought the department.

In June 2012, a man named Guillermo J. Lopez filed a separate case against the mother seeking to establish paternity. The department halted the paternity case against Guillermo D. Lopez, who continued pursuing attorney’s fees. A magistrate ruled that Lopez was entitled to attorney’s fees, but a circuit judge overturned that ruling.

On Wednesday, the appeals court cited part of the magistrate’s ruling that found the department “had failed to conduct due diligence prior to serving Lopez with DOR’s petition, and further found that DOR had not acted in good faith in continuing to prosecute its paternity action against Lopez.”

The ruling also said the only evidence in the case indicates that Lopez’s name “was chosen from the phone book in some random fashion.”

Along with the $4,257 in attorney’s fees recommended by the magistrate, the appeals court said Lopez is entitled to fees for subsequent proceedings in the case.

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