Equity. Macon Superior Court. Before Judge Sizemore.
Rebecca C. Moody, for appellant.
Cook & Connelly, C. Sutton Connelly, Giannini & Yates, Christopher A. Yates, Daniel B. Kane, for appellee.
NAHMIAS, Justice. All the Justices concur.
This case involves a dispute between appellant Shalanda Sanders, né e Riley (" Shalanda" ), and her purported biological half-brother, appellee Curtis Riley (" Curtis" ), over the estate of Clifford " Colonel" Riley (" Mr. Riley" ), who died without leaving a will. Shalanda claims [296 Ga. 694] the right to inherit fro Mr. Riley as a child born during the marriage of her mother and Mr. Riley and, alternatively, based on the equitable doctrine known as " virtual adoption." Curtis filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of virtual adoption, arguing that there is insufficient evidence of an agreement by Mr. Riley to adopt Shalanda and the required partial performance of that agreement.
The trial court granted Curtis's motion. In doing so, however, the court did not view the evidence and draw reasonable inferences from it in the light most favorable to Shalanda as the party opposing summary judgment, and consequently erred in concluding that Curtis had shown that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact regarding virtual adoption. The court also misinterpreted the requirement of partial performance of the agreement to adopt and erroneously concluded that an established virtual adoption can be undone by showing that the child formed a relationship with her natural father after she learned of his existence when she was a teenager. Accordingly, we reverse the grant of partial summary judgment to Curtis.
1. As this appeal is from a ruling on a motion for partial summary judgment, " there have not yet been factual findings by a judge or jury, and [Shalanda's] version of events (unsurprisingly) differs substantially from [Curtis's] version." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686) (2007). In this posture, courts must view the evidence and draw reasonable inferences from it in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. See Smith v. Ellis, 291 Ga. 566, 567 (731 S.E.2d 731) (2012). See also Cowart v. Widener, 287 Ga. 622, 624 (697 S.E.2d 779) (2010) (explaining that " [s]ummary judgments enjoy no presumption of correctness on appeal, and an appellate court must satisfy itself de novo that the requirements of OCGA § 9-11-56 (c) have been met" ). So viewed, the record shows as follows.
In 1964, Mr. Riley married Corine Mathis (" Mrs. Riley" ), and three children were born during the marriage: Ernestine in 1966, Curtis in 1969, and Shalanda in 1978. By the time Shalanda was born, Mr. Riley had not resided in the marital home for about three years, and Mrs. Riley had begun an affair with Roy Neal Warren (" Mr. Warren" ). According to Mr. Warren:
Corine Riley, Colonel Riley and I all knew when Corine was pregnant [with Shalanda] that she was in all likelihood pregnant with my child. Corine was married to Colonel at that time. When Shalanda was born, Colonel, Corine and I talked and I agreed Colonel would be her legal father. He and Corine were to raise her and I agreed to them having her. I [296 Ga. 695] remember Colonel went to Americus to the hospital after we talked and he had his name put on [Shalanda's] birth certificate.
Mr. Riley treated Shalanda the same way that he treated Ernestine and Curtis; he held Shalanda out as his daughter, and she in turn held him out as her father. Mr. Riley did not return to live at the marital home until after the children were grown, but he visited Mrs. Riley and the children there two to three times a week on average and assisted
Mrs. Riley with whatever needed to be done for the children, including providing Shalanda with health insurance. Shalanda grew up believing that Mr. Riley was her natural (biological) father.
In 1992 or 1993, when Shalanda was 14, Mrs. Riley told her that Mr. Riley was not her natural father. Mrs. Riley told Shalanda that Mr. Warren was her natural father and introduced Shalanda to Mr. Warren. Prior to that time, Shalanda had no contact with Mr. Warren, and he did not support her, financially or otherwise. Shalanda asked her mother why, if Mr. Riley was not her natural father, she carried his last name and he was listed as the father on her birth certificate. Mrs. Riley explained that Mr. Warren was merely her natural father; it was Mr. Riley's idea to list himself as the father on her birth certificate and for Shalanda to carry his last name instead of Mr. ...