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Parker v. Stone

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

July 8, 2015

STONE et al

Editorial Note:

This Opinion is Uncorrected and subject to revision by the court.

ELLINGTON, Presiding Judge. McFadden, J., concurs. Dillard, J., concurs fully in Divisions 1 and 3, and in judgment only in Division 2.


Ellington, Presiding Judge.

The Superior Court of Douglas County entered a decree of adoption of a child, eight-year-old A. S., by Richard and Anita Stone. Jeremi Parker appeals, contending that the superior court lacked jurisdiction and therefore erred in denying his motion to dismiss the Stones' amended petition to adopt A. S. For the reasons explained below, we affirm.[1]

The record shows that A. S. was born on July 23, 2006, and placed with the Stones on July 28, 2006. On May 29, 2007, the Georgia Department of Human Resources by and through the Douglas County Department of Family and Children Services (" the Department" ), filed in the Juvenile Court of Douglas County a petition to terminate the parental interests of S. S. (A. S.'s mother) and C. W. (A. S.'s biological and putative father and Parker's half-brother). On May 22, 2008 (nunc pro tunc to September 17, 2007), the juvenile court entered an order terminating S. S.'s parental rights; the juvenile court reserved the issue of C. W.'s parental rights.

On May 27, 2008, the Stones filed in the superior court the instant petition to adopt A. S., alleging, inter alia, that on May 22, 2008, C. W. had surrendered his parental rights to Parker. On July 11, 2008, as A. S.'s " biological uncle," Parker responded to the Stones' petition. Parker admitted that C. W. had surrendered his parental rights to Parker on May 22, 2008. He objected to the Stones' adoption petition, denying that the adoption was in A. S.'s best interests.[2] He later filed a motion to dismiss the adoption petition. After a hearing, the superior court denied Parker's motion to dismiss the Stones' petition, granted the petition, and entered a decree of adoption. In the decree, the superior court stated that the rights and obligations of C. W., A. S's " putative biological father but not legal father[,] ... are permanently terminated based upon the dismissal [on June 25, 2009,] of [the] Petition for Legitimation" C. W. had filed in the juvenile court.[3]

1. Before considering the merits of Parker's appeal, we will address the Stones' motion to dismiss (filed March 19, 2015). The Stones argue that Parker was not a party to the adoption proceeding in the superior court and, therefore, he lacks standing pursuant to OCGA § 5-6-33 to file an appeal from the decree. Generally, that Code section limits the right to appeal to any " party" in a civil case.[4] Although OCGA § 19-8-15 conferred a right on Parker " to file objections to the petition for adoption[,]" the Stones contend, filing objections did not make Parker a party with a right to appeal under OCGA § 5-6-33.

OCGA § 19-8-15 provides in pertinent part: " If [a] child sought to be adopted has no legal father or legal mother living, it shall be the privilege of any person related by blood to the child to file objections to the petition for adoption." Thus, by its plain terms, OCGA § 19-8-15 gives blood relatives of a child the right, when the specified criteria are met, to participate in adoption proceedings to a certain extent, that is, by filing objections, and the statute inherently requires the trial court to consider all properly filed objections.[5] A trial court's decision to grant a petition to adopt a child over the objections of a blood relative who has a statutory right to lodge objections is necessarily an adverse decision as to that person. We conclude that a right to appellate review of such an adverse decision flows from the statutory right to participate in the proceedings in the trial court.[6]

Moreover, even if this were not so as a general matter, we conclude that in these proceedings specifically Parker is a party and has standing to appeal. The Stones served him with a summons, and he filed a response to their petition as directed by the summons. The trial court ordered Parker to undergo a psychological examination and submit to a home evaluation. He filed pleadings, which the Stones sought to quash and which we ruled were quashed in error. Parker v. Stone, 306 Ga.App. at 637-638 (1). In the earlier appeal, we held that the record establishes that A. S. has no legal father or legal mother living and that, as a result, Parker has standing under OCGA § 19-8-15 to file objections to the Stones' petition, provided that he is a blood relative. Id. Just as Parker had standing to appeal the superior court's earlier decree and its ruling dismissing his objections to the adoption and his other pleadings, he has standing to appeal from the instant decree entered upon consideration of his objections to the adoption and the evidence in support of the Stones' petition. The Stones' motion to dismiss is hereby denied. [7]

2. Turning to Parker's claims on appeal, he contends that, because the juvenile court first exercised its jurisdiction to terminate the parental rights of the biological parents, the superior court did not have jurisdiction to enter an adoption decree that terminated the parental rights of the biological father. Parker contends that the trial court failed to follow the holding of In the Interest of J. C. W., 315 Ga.App. 566 (727 S.E.2d 127) (2012), and erred in exercising jurisdiction.

" The doctrine of priority jurisdiction provides that[,] where different tribunals have concurrent jurisdiction over a matter, the first court to exercise jurisdiction will retain it." (Citation and footnote omitted.) Stanfield v. Alizota, 294 Ga. 813, 815 (756 S.E.2d 526) (2014).[8] For example, because juvenile courts and superior courts have concurrent jurisdiction over termination of parental rights, the first court taking jurisdiction over such a matter retains jurisdiction. In the Interest of J. C. W., 315 Ga.App. at 572 (1). As we explained, the policy behind the doctrine of priority jurisdiction is to reduce litigation, by avoiding duplicative suits, and to avoid inconsistent, competing rulings on an issue. Id.

In this case, the juvenile court and the superior court potentially had concurrent jurisdiction with respect to the issue of termination of parental rights, and a petition for termination of the parental rights had been filed in the juvenile court before the Stones filed their adoption petition in the superior court. It is undisputed, however, that the juvenile court never issued a ruling regarding the parental rights of A. S.'s biological father, C. W., because C. W. filed a petition for legitimation and that the juvenile court later dismissed the petition for legitimation without declaring that C. W. is A. S.'s legal father. When the superior court considered the Stones' adoption petition, the proceeding in the juvenile court had long since ended, and therefore there was no problem of overlapping jurisdiction or competing, inconsistent rulings.[9] Furthermore, because, at the time of the final hearing and ruling on the Stones' adoption petition, C. W. was a biological father who had failed to take any of the actions to acquire ...

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