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COMMONWEALTH EX REL. DEBORAH L. WRIGHT v. JAMES S. LACY (09/25/81)

decided: September 25, 1981.

COMMONWEALTH EX REL. DEBORAH L. WRIGHT
v.
JAMES S. LACY, APPELLANT



No. 1485 October Term, 1979, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Family Division, June 1979, W.D. No. 77881.

COUNSEL

Pamela Pryor Cohen, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Michelle Goldfarb, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Brosky, Watkins and Cirillo, JJ.*fn* Watkins, J., concurs in result.

Author: Brosky

[ 291 Pa. Super. Page 186]

On June 19, 1979, appellant was adjudged the father of appellee's child. At that time, a hearing on support was continued until August of 1979. This appeal was filed before the support matter was heard, and, the appellee argues, as the trial court held, that the appeal is interlocutory. The trial court reached its decision based upon the analysis presented in our decision in Williams v. Williams, 253 Pa. Super. 444, 385 A.2d 422 (1978).

The standard by which we determine whether an appeal from a decision of a trial court is appealable is clear. The jurisdiction of the Superior Court is limited to appeals from common pleas court final orders, excepting where a statute provides otherwise. Williams, supra.

Appellant asserts that an immediate appeal should be heard in the instant case because of decisions of the Supreme Court recognizing parental rights, notably, Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 92 S.Ct. 1208, 31 L.Ed.2d 551 (1972). In Stanley, supra, the United States Supreme Court held:

The State of Illinois assumes custody of the children of married parents, divorced parents, and unmarried mothers only after a hearing and proof of neglect. The children of unmarried fathers, however, are declared dependent children without a hearing on parental fitness and without proof of neglect. Stanley's claim in the state courts and here is that failure to afford him a hearing on his parental

[ 291 Pa. Super. Page 187]

    qualifications while extending it to other parents denied him equal protection of the laws. We have concluded that all Illinois parents are constitutionally entitled to a hearing on their fitness before their children are removed from their custody. It follows that denying such a hearing to Stanley and those like him while granting it to other Illinois parents is inescapably contrary to the Equal Protection Clause. [footnote omitted]

Thus, it is clear in Stanley, supra., that denying a putative father the right to assert his rights is unconstitutional under the analysis presented in Stanley, supra. Our problem is somewhat different though we believe essentially very similar. Here, we review the denial of an alleged father's right to appeal a determination of paternity incident to a support action, where no support order has issued, where the putative father denies paternity.

Previous decisions have held the jurisdiction in support actions is very strictly constrained. It is clear that we shall not resolve disputes presented in interlocutory appeals other than those which we are statutorily authorized to hear. However, it is no longer clear that there is no such statutory authorization in the instant case.

Appeals from support orders are statutorily authorized by 42 Pa.C.S.A. ยง 6774 which states:

(a) By Department of Public Welfare. -- If the Department of Public Welfare is of the opinion that a support order is erroneous, or inadequate, or presents a question of law warranting an appeal in the public interest, it may:

(1) Perfect an appeal to the proper appellate court if the support order was issued by a court ...


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