Karen Victoria Dahlberg Wynn v. The Superior Court of Fresno County, F056975

Karen Victoria Dahlberg Wynn won an appeal, 08/04/09, to correct her original birth certificate to state the actual names of her birth parents rather than the fictitious names her mother used when the original certificate was prepared.

Karen was the result of an unplanned pregnancy in 1949. Karen’s mother, an enrolled member of an Indian tribe, hid the pregnancy from her family and community . She falsified her name and the name of the father on the birth certificate. In 1951, she gave Karen up for adoption. She was adopted by the Dahlberg family and a new certificate of live birth was issued listing Karen as their daughter. The old certificate was sealed as part of the adoption process.

In 1981, Karen obtained the release of her adoption file, which revealed the true names of her biological parents. She also obtained an order from the Fresno Superior Court unsealing her birth record. In 2001, Karen contacted her biological mother and established an ongoing relationship. Karen wanted to join her mother’s tribe but was told by the tribe’s enrollment office that they needed an amended version of her original birth record that changes the name of her natural mother from the fictitious name to the correct name one. Karen filed a motion to have her certificate changed and have Karen’s biological mother be recognized as such.

The matter was heard by the superior court on December 8, 2008. The superior court denied the petition, stating that the court’s jurisdiction was limited and it did not think it “appropriate for the Court to correct an original birth certificate when that is meaningless for legal purposes, for the Court’s purposes, because her new birth certificate [from the adoption] establishes who  her legal parents are and I’ve never had a situation where anyone [has] asked to fix a  birth certificate that no longer has any force and effect in terms of legal status of parent and child.”

Fifth Court of Appeal reversed this decision. The Court determined that current statute did not allow Karen to change the names on her original birth certificate–only that minor clerical changes could be made. But the crux of the case was whether any kind of legal relationship could exist between biological mother and child after child has been adopted. In this case, the Indian tribe membership was the legal tie, and the Court determined that it had the right to adjudicate on the issue of a biological mother-child relationship.

The Court also found that it had the authority and duty to change Karen’s certificate according to one of the provisions in part 3(Uniform Parentage Act) of division 12 (Parent and Child Relationship) of the Family Code applicable to the father and child relationship is section 7639, which states:

“If the judgment or order of the court is at variance with the child’s birth
certificate, the court shall order that a new birth certificate be issued as
prescribed in Article 2 (commencing with Section 102725) of Chapter 5 of
Part 1 of Division 102 of the Health and Safety Code.”

The matter was remanded to the superior court to adjudicate the facts of Karen’s parentage and, if appropriate, order the issuance of a new birth certificate to correct appellant’s original birth certificate.

The full text of the court’s decision can be found here.