December 10, 2015
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
(BKS-35-14). (Hon. Jennifer A. Di Toro, Trial Judge).
B. Outman, with whom Harvey Schweitzer was on the brief, for
Sisson, with whom Melissa Colangelo and Allen Snyder were on
the brief, for amicus curiae Children's Law Center.
GLICKMAN and MCLEESE, Associate Judges, and REID, Senior
McLeese, Associate Judge
D.B. seeks review of an order denying D.B.'s request for
access to adoption records in order to learn the identities
of his biological parents. We vacate and remand for further
D.B. was adopted in the District of Columbia in the
mid-1960s. The Jewish Social Services Agency ("
JSSA" ) was the adoption agency involved. In 2004, D.B.
filed a petition in the Superior Court seeking access to the
records of his adoption. The trial court partially granted
D.B.'s request, but D.B. did not obtain information
identifying his biological parents.
2014, D.B. filed a second petition, asking for the names of
his biological parents as well as all records held by the
court and JSSA pertaining to his adoption. The trial court
partially granted the petition, directing JSSA to act as an
intermediary and to investigate the identities of D.B.'s
biological parents. In response, JSSA reported that a search
for D.B.'s biological parents had not been successful.
JSSA also informed the trial court that D.B.'s biological
parents " were promised confidentiality" and that
" JSSA has never released records without the specific
permission of the client." The trial court thereafter
issued an order denying D.B.'s petition, concluding that,
" [i]n the absence of a waiver, the guarantee of
confidentiality shall not be disturbed."
raises a number of objections to the trial court's
ruling: (1) the trial court applied an incorrect standard in
determining whether D.B. should be allowed access to his
adoption records, because under D.C. Code § 16-311 (2012
Repl.) the trial court was required to grant D.B. such access
if doing so was in D.B.'s best interest; (2) the trial
court abused its discretion by failing to hold an evidentiary
hearing before denying D.B.'s petition; (3) D.B. has a
right to know the identity of his birth parents, and that
right is not superseded by any privacy rights held by
D.B.'s parents; (4) the trial court abused its discretion
by delegating to JSSA the court's statutory authority to
decide whether a complete unsealing of D.B.'s adoption
records was warranted; and (5) section 16-311 denies adoptees
their constitutional rights to due process and equal
protection of the laws. We conclude that the case should be
remanded for further consideration.
16-311 states that " records and papers in adoption
proceedings shall be sealed" and " may not be
inspected . . . except upon order of the court, and only then
when the court is satisfied that the welfare of the child
will thereby be promoted or protected." Perhaps because
there was no adversarial briefing in the trial court, the
order on review did not cite section 16-311 or address the
application of that provision to D.B.'s petition.
Specifically, the trial court did not address (1) whether
granting the petition would promote or protect D.B.'s
welfare; (2) whether the welfare of the child is the sole
consideration under section 16-311 or whether instead section
16-311 permits a trial court to take other considerations
into account; (3) whether section 16-311's reference to
" records and papers in adoption proceedings"
applies only to court records or also extends to records held
by District of Columbia agencies or by private adoption
agencies such as JSSA; and (4) the potential applicability of
D.C. Code § 4-1405 (b)-(c) (2012 Repl.) (generally
providing for confidentiality of certain records held by
" child-placing" agencies) and Super. Ct. Adopt. R.
79 and 79-I (procedures relating to adoption records).
factual record in this case also is not fully developed. For
example, there appears to be a dispute about whether
D.B.'s biological parents were, or could lawfully have
been, promised confidentiality at the time of D.B.'s
adoption. Finally, neither JSSA nor the District of Columbia
participated formally in the proceedings before the trial
court or in this court. JSSA and the District therefore have
not yet expressed views ...