November 16, 2015

Jenner & Block Partners Paul M. Smith and Adam G. Unikowsky filed a petition for certiorari in the case of a woman whose Georgia adoption of her former partner’s children was declared “void” by the Alabama Supreme Court.  At issue is whether Alabama violated the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution by not respecting the Georgia court’s adoption ruling.  Submitted with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the petition urges the US Supreme Court to take the case of  a woman identified as V.L.,  the children’s non-biological mother who raised the three children from birth.  When the parents broke up, the biological mother, E.L., kept V.L. from seeing the children.  V.L. sought visitation in Alabama, where the family lives.  E.L. opposed her request, arguing that the Georgia adoption was invalid in Alabama.  In September 2015, the Alabama Supreme Court issued an order refusing to recognize V.L.’s Georgia adoption and declaring it “void.”

“The decision of the Alabama Supreme Court conflicts with a century of this Court’s Full Faith and Credit case law and deals a serious blow to the principles of comity and finality underlying the Clause,” according to the petition.  “Moreover, the decision will result in grave practical harm. It yields the ultimate conflict of authority—dueling court orders in different states—and threatens to shatter the legal ties that bind numerous Alabama adoptive parents to their children.”

The firm also joined the National Center for Lesbian Rights in filing a request to “recall and stay” the Alabama Supreme Court’s judgment in the case.  “V.L. requests such relief because the Alabama Supreme Court's decision has effectively prevented her from having any contact with her adoptive minor children, causing irreparable harm to the parent-child relationship.  In view of the lasting harm that occurs when a parent is prevented from contacting her minor children, V.L. requests expedited consideration of this application,” the request says.

News of both requests were reported by several media outlets including BuzzFeed News, which quoted Mr. Smith as saying that “the thing about it is, it’s so glaringly, clearly wrong to have a judge in one state decide that the court in the other state got that state’s law wrong — and make it jurisdictional on top of that, for no reason — is just trampling on the basic principles of full faith and credit.  And, it’s doing it in the adoption context, which is the area where you want to have finality most of all. You can’t tell someone they’re no longer a parent eight years later based on what state you’re in. It’s a terrible decision.” 


The Washington Post and The Washington Bladealso reported on the case.