In the Matter of the Estate of DEBORAH E. REID, Deceased.
Saludares is the biological child of Deborah Reid. When he
was two years old, he was adopted by Reid's parents. Reid
subsequently had two more children. After Reid died, her
estate secured a settlement from her medical providers.
Saludares sought a share of the settlement proceeds as
Reid's child. He now appeals from a superior court order
granting Reid's younger children's motion for summary
judgment and ruling that Saludares was not Reid's
statutory beneficiary for the purposes of the wrongful death
argues that (1) despite his adoption, he remains a child of
Reid as contemplated by the wrongful death statute, (2) the
adoption decree did not terminate the parent-child
relationship between himself and Reid, (3) judicial estoppel
operates to make him a statutory beneficiary, and (4) the
superior court erred by entering an order approving
distribution of the wrongful death settlement proceeds
without holding an evidentiary hearing to determine the
distribution between beneficiaries.
published portion of this opinion, we hold that the right for
a child to recover as a statutory beneficiary in a wrongful
death claim is extinguished by the child's adoption. In
the unpublished portion of this opinion, we further hold that
Reid voluntarily relinquished her parental rights by
consenting to Saludares's adoption and effectively
terminated the parent-child relationship, and that judicial
estoppel does not operate to make Saludares a statutory
beneficiary. Consequently, we affirm the superior court's
gave birth to Saludares in 1982 when she was 17 years old.
Two years later, Reid's parents adopted Saludares, with
Reid's consent. Reid later gave birth to two other
children- Laurenne and Dillon. In 2008, Reid passed away as a
result of an opiate overdose.
estate filed a wrongful death action in 2011, claiming
professional negligence against the providers who prescribed
Reid pain medication. The action named Laurenne, Dillon, and
Saludares as potential beneficiaries. The defendants in the
action agreed to pay $850, 000 as part of a settlement
agreement in 2016. The superior court approved the settlement
and ordered that the proceeds be retained in an interest
bearing trust account pending proceedings to determine how
the proceeds should be divided.
Laurenne, and Dillon filed cross motions for summary judgment
on the question of whether Saludares was eligible to receive
a portion of the proceeds. The superior court ruled that
Saludares's adoption terminated his status as Reid's
child and, consequently, entered an order granting Dillon and
Laurenne's motion and denying Saludares's. The order
Brandon Saludares, a child born to Deborah E. Reid, who was
adopted by others prior to Deborah E. Reid's death is not
a statutory beneficiary under the terms of RCW 4.20.020, the
Washington wrongful death statute, and is therefore not
entitled to a share of the wrongful death recovery made on
behalf of decedent.
Papers (CP) at 255. Saludares appeals.
argues that his adoption had no effect on his status as
Reid's child for purposes of Washington's wrongful
death statute, RCW 4.20.020. He contends that "child,
" as used in RCW 4.20.020, means any biological child of
the decedent, and therefore, the superior court erred by
ruling that Saludares is not a statutory beneficiary because
of his adoption. We disagree.
interpretation involves questions of law that we review de
novo. In re Estate of Blessing, 174 Wn.2d 228, 231,
273 P.3d 975 (2012). When engaging in statutory
interpretation, we endeavor to determine and give effect to
the legislature's intent. Blessing, 174 Wn.2d at
231. In determining the legislature's intent, we must
first examine the statute's plain language.
Blessing, 174 Wn.2d at 231. We discern plain meaning
from the ordinary meaning of the language at issue, the
context of the statute, related provisions, and the statutory
scheme as a whole. Blessing, 174 Wn.2d at 231.
statutory term is undefined, we may look to a dictionary for
its ordinary meaning. Blessing, 174 Wn.2d at 231.
When determining the meaning of undefined terms, courts
"will consider the statute as a whole and provide such
meaning to the term as is in harmony with other statutory
provisions." Heinsma v. City of Vancouver, 144
Wn.2d 556, 564, 29 P.3d 709 (2001). '"Statutes must
be interpreted and construed so that all the language used is
given effect, with no portion rendered meaningless or
superfluous.'" G-P Gypsum Corp. v. Dep't of
Revenue, 169 Wn.2d 304, 309, 237 P.3d 256 (2010)
(internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting State v.
J.P., 149 Wn.2d 444, 450, 69 P.3d 318 (2003)). We must
also "avoid constructions that yield unlikely, absurd or
strained consequences." Kilian v. Atkinson, 147
Wn.2d 16, 21, 50 P.3d 638 (2002).
4.20.020 & Adoption Statutes
4.20.020, in relevant part, specifies the beneficiaries of a
wrongful death action as follows:
Every such action shall be for the benefit of the wife,
husband, state registered domestic partner, child or
children, including stepchildren, of the person whose
death shall have been so caused.
4.20 RCW does not define "child" or
"children." While the dictionary may inform the
plain meaning of a term, focus on the literal language of RCW
4.20.020 and the dictionary definitions of
"child" do not answer the essential question here:
whether the legislature intended an adopted child to qualify
as a statutory beneficiary of his biological mother for
purposes of a wrongful death action.
we interpret RCW 4.20.020 in harmony with Washington's
adoption statutes "to achieve a harmonious total
statutory scheme . . . which maintains the integrity of the
respective statutes." State ex rel. Peninsula
Neighborhood Ass'n v. Dep't of Transp., 142
Wn.2d 328, 342, 12 P.3d 134 (2000) (alteration in original)
(internal quotation marks omitted) ...