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Scriven v. State of Georgia

Court of Appeals of Georgia

March 2, 2015

SCRIVEN
v.
STATE OF GEORGIA

Adoption. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge LaGrua.

Judgment reversed.

J. S., pro se.

Samuel S. Olens, Attorney General, Shalen S. Nelson, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Calandra A. Harps, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

MILLER, Judge. Doyle, P. J., and Dillard, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 570

Miller, Judge.

This appeal arises from the denial of J. S.'s unopposed petition to examine her sealed adoption records pursuant to OCGA § 19-8-23. J. S. appeals, contending that the superior court abused its discretion in denying her petition because she showed good cause to examine the records. For the reasons that follow, we find that the superior court abused its discretion in this case and reverse.

Trial court judges have broad discretionary powers with regard to the records of their courts, and this Court will not reverse the grant or denial of a petition to examine sealed records absent an abuse of that discretion. See Sharpton v. Hall, 296 Ga.App. 251, 253 (674 S.E.2d 105) (2009) (affirming grant of limited access to sealed guardianship records).

Here, the record shows that J. S., along with E. G. and S. G., her presumed brothers, filed a verified petition seeking to examine J. S.'s sealed adoption records. In the petition and supporting affidavit, J. S. averred that she was 65 years old, her biological parents had likely passed away, the Georgia Adoption Registry had notified the parties that they were genetically related, and the parties were seeking the information contained in the sealed records, in part, for medical reasons, because S. G. had a hereditary form of cancer.[1] The Department of Human Services (" DHS" ) filed a response to J. S.'s petition, stating that it had no objection to the release of the adoption records to J. S.[2] The superior court nevertheless denied J. S.'s petition, finding that she had not shown good cause to unseal her adoption records.[3]

J. S. contends that she provided a substantial basis for finding good cause based upon her petition and supporting affidavit, and that the trial court abused its discretion in finding otherwise. We agree.

[330 Ga.App. 827] With regard to sealed adoption records, OCGA § 19-8-23 (a) provides that such records

... may be examined by the parties at interest in the adoption and their attorneys when, after written petition has been presented to the court having jurisdiction and after the department and the appropriate child-placing agency have ...

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