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In re E.D.R.

May 17, 2001

IN RE: E.D.R.; S.S.R. & I.E.R., APPELLANTS.


Before Glickman and Washington, Associate Judges, and Kern, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Washington, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Zinora Mitchell-Rankin, Trial Judge)

Argued February 27, 2001

Appellants, S.S.R. and I.E.R., are the adoptive parents of E.D.R. With their petition for adoption to the trial court, appellants requested a correction of the date of birth listed on E.D.R.'s foreign birth certificate. The sole issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in denying appellants' request to change the birth date on E.D.R.'s birth certificate where a preponderance of the evidence showed that the child was born approximately six months later than the birth date on the birth certificate. We reverse and remand.

I.

Appellants filed a petition for adoption with the Superior Court on December 9, 1999 for E.D.R. On April 20, 2000, they filed a motion to correct E.D.R.'s date of birth on her birth certificate. In the motion, appellants asked the trial court to change E.D.R.'s birth date to November 1, 1998. They supported the motion with two declarations by Paul T. Peebles, M.D., a pediatrician, and Dana S. Greenwald, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist. The trial court denied appellants' motion, and they subsequently submitted a motion for reconsideration which was supported by their personal knowledge about E.D.R.

Appellants stated in their motion for reconsideration that on April 16, 1999, they traveled to China and adopted an abandoned Chinese baby girl, E.D.R. When E.D.R was found, there was no identifying information. The birth certificate listed May 22, 1998 as E.D.R.'s date of birth, which would have made her eleven months old when appellants adopted her in China. While at the orphanage, appellants questioned E.D.R.'s date of birth because the baby looked substantially younger than eleven months. In response, the workers at the orphanage told appellants that they believe that E.D.R. was actually born on November 1, 1998. Further, the workers told appellants that the birth dates of abandoned girls listed on Chinese birth certificates are often incorrect.

In their initial motion to the court, appellants offered the affidavit of Dr. Peebles. Dr. Peebles' affidavit states that "[i]t is the experience of pediatricians that examine and treat adopted children from overseas that the dates of birth provided by certain foreign countries outside Western Europe for abandoned children are frequently inaccurate by several months." He concluded, with "reasonably scientific certainty," after examining E.D.R. that her date of birth was November 1, 1998. In addition, the medical opinion of Dr. Greenwald was included in appellants' motion to the trial court. Dr. Greenwald also concluded with "reasonable scientific certainty" that based on E.D.R.'s teeth and the structure and size of her jaw and oral cavity, she was probably born on or about November 1, 1998.

In addition, the trial court had in its possession a copy of a translation of E.D.R.'s Chinese birth certificate that was attached to appellants' petition for adoption for its review.

On May 17, 2000, the trial court entered an order denying appellants' motion. The trial court stated that the opinions of the doctors, "while informed and educated, are not, without more, definitive enough to grant [appellants'] motion." The trial court found that since E.D.R. was abandoned, "it is impossible to determine whether or not any factors in her early life may have contributed to [E.D.R.'s] development." Further, the trial court found that the date of birth could be several days before or after November 1, 1998. For these reasons, the trial court ruled that in the absence of "contrary evidence that is of absolute certainty," the Chinese birth certificate should be relied on.

Subsequently, the appellants' motion for reconsideration was denied. The final decree of adoption was entered on June 13, 2000, retaining E.D.R.'s May 22, 1998 birth date. The appellants filed an appeal to this court on July 7, 2000, challenging the trial court's failure to correct E.D.R.'s date of birth.

II.

Although the trial court's findings of fact are usually reviewed under the clearly erroneous standard, this court in evaluating the trial court's exercise of discretion inquires into whether the trial court applied the proper burden of proof. See Murphy v. McCloud, 650 A.2d 202, 209-210 (D.C. 1994); Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 757 & n.9 (1982). This court then determines if the trial court's decision was supported by substantial reasoning drawn from a firm factual foundation in the record. See In re D.I.S., 494 A.2d 1316, 1323 (D.C.1985). Further, this court "will not sustain findings in which the trial court has "reject[ed] or fail[ed] to draw the inferences which we [find] inescapable from the record as a whole." Id. (quoting Alexander v. National Farmers Org., 687 F.2d 1173, 1203 (8th Cir. 1982)). Lastly, when the ...


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