Superior Court County: San Juan. Superior Court Cause No: 92-2-05154-1. Date filed in Superior Court: 6-13-94. Superior Court Judge Signing: Alan R. Hancock.
Petition for Review Granted February 6, 1997,
Written by: Becker, J., Concurred by: Grosse, J., Coleman, J.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Becker
BECKER, J. -- Jeffrey Beeston's young son died in a car accident. Beeston, obligated to pay child support to the boy's mother, had made only occasional payments. The trial court dismissed Beeston as a plaintiff in a wrongful death suit, applying a statute that allows the father of an "illegitimate child" to recover only if the father has "regularly contributed to the child's support." *fn1 Because the statute does not impose a similar standing requirement on mothers, this provision violates Washington's Equal Rights Amendment.
Jeffrey Beeston and Toni Rae Guard lived together during the late 1980's. They became parents of a girl in 1987, and a boy, Jeffrey, Jr., in 1988. Beeston and Guard separated shortly after Jeffrey's birth.
In 1990, the State obtained a judgment establishing Beeston's paternity and requiring him to pay monthly child support. Beeston for the most part failed to meet the court-ordered obligations. In the twenty-three months following the entry of judgment, Beeston made only seven support payments. His child support arrearages for the two children amounted to over $9,000.
Jeffrey died in 1992, after being hit by a vehicle driven by John Jackson. Toni Guard filed a wrongful death complaint against Jackson. Beeston attempted to join the complaint. Guard and Jackson resisted the joinder.
The statute allowing suit for wrongful death of a child provides in part:
The mother or father or both may maintain an action as plaintiff for the injury or death or a minor child, or a child on whom either, or both, are dependent for support: PROVIDED, That in the case of an illegitimate child the father cannot maintain or join as a party an action unless paternity has been duly established and the father has regularly contributed to the child's support.
(Emphasis added.) RCW 4.24.010. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the issue of Beeston's standing to join the suit under this statute. The trial court concluded that Beeston did not have standing because he had not "regularly contributed" to Jeffrey's support. Unpersuaded that the statute was unconstitutionally discriminatory, the court dismissed him from the suit.
REGULAR CONTRIBUTION TO SUPPORT
We first consider Beeston's contention that he did regularly contribute to Jeffrey's support. On appeal from an order of summary judgment, the trial court's construction of a statute is reviewed de novo. *fn2
Beeston argues that "support" in RCW 4.24.010 means the expression of love and affection, expression of concern for a child's well-being, and the duty to provide social and moral guidance. *fn3 Where a term is not defined by a statute, the court looks to the statute's subject matter and the context in which the word is used. *fn4 In the context of statutes dealing with parent-child relations, "support" generally means providing for a child's needs for housing, food, clothing, education and health care. *fn5 We therefore construe RCW 4.24.010 as requiring the father to contribute regularly to the child's ...