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Court of Appeals Reverses $3.25M Judgment in Adoption Malpractice Lawsuit

Gabriel McFarland

DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa Court of Appeals has reversed a jury’s decision that awarded an Ankeny couple $3.25 million after they claimed their adoption attorney didn’t file paperwork on time and that lead to them losing the child they planned to adopt.

Heidi and Rachel McFarland were planning to adopt baby Gabriel in 2014. Within three months of caring for the boy, they were forced to give him back to biological parents Markeya Atkins and Drew Weehler-Smith because their attorney Jason Reiper did not have Atkins and Weehler-Smith sign termination of parental rights documents.

A month after Gabriel was returned to his biological parents, he was found unresponsive while under the care of Weehler-Smith. An autopsy showed the baby died from severe head injuries. Wheeler-Smith was found guilty of second-degree murder and is now serving a 50-year prison sentence.

In August of 2017, a jury awarded the McFarlands $3.25 million after they sued Reiper. He filed an appeal, claiming “…emotional distress damages are not available in this action for legal malpractice.”

In the ruling issued Wednesday, the court said, “Taking the evidence in the light most favorable to the McFarlands, they have not shown Rieper engaged in illegitimate conduct that was especially likely to produce serious emotional harm.”

The ruling goes on to say, “Accordingly, they cannot show he had “a duty to exercise ordinary care to avoid causing emotional harm,” and emotional distress damages are not available.”

The Court of Appeals said judgment in the case will now be entered in favor of Reiper.

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