March 2, 2015
STATE OF GEORGIA
Adoption. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge LaGrua.
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.
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. 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. The superior court nevertheless denied J. S.'s petition, finding that she had not shown good cause to unseal her adoption records.
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 received at least 30 days' prior written notice of the filing of
such petition, the matter has come on before the court in chambers and, good cause having been shown to the court, the court has entered an order permitting such examination. ...
The adoption records statute further provides that an adopted person who has reached the age of 21 years may petition the superior court seeking the release of the identity of her biological parents. OCGA § 19-8-23 (f) (4) (D) (ii). The petition shall be granted if the biological parent has refused to consent, or the department or placement agency has made diligent but unsuccessful efforts to locate each biological parent, and the " failure to release the identity of each biological parent would have an adverse impact upon the physical, mental, or emotional health of the adopted person." OCGA § 19-8-23 (f) (4) (D) (ii). The statute also provides for disclosure of the name and burial place of a deceased biological parent without the necessity of obtaining a court order. OCGA § 19-8-23 (f) (4) (D) (iii).
What constitutes " good cause" to examine sealed adoption records is not defined by statute. Consequently, the term " good cause" is a factual question which must be judged according to the particular circumstances of the case. See In re G. E. C., 269 Ga. 744, 745 (2) (506 S.E.2d 843) (1998). Here, based on the undisputed circumstances of this case, J. S. has clearly demonstrated good cause to examine her adoption records.
Notably, J. S. has shown that the parties to the petition are genetically related, her biological parents are likely deceased, and one of her presumed biological brothers died from hereditary cancer. Moreover, J. S.'s petition was unopposed. J. S. is entitled to the release of information regarding her biological parents if they are deceased, if they cannot be located or if they did not consent to the release of information, because she has shown, without objection, that the failure to release their identities would adversely impact her physical health. See OCGA § 19-8-23 (f) (4) (D) (ii)-(iii). Under these particular circumstances, the superior court abused its discretion in denying J. S.'s petition for access to her sealed adoption records.
Doyle, P. J., and Dillard, J., concur.