September 16, 2019
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
(BKS-117-16), (Hon. Yvonne M. Williams, Trial Judge)
G.D.L., pro se.
Melissa Colangelo, with whom Abraham Sisson was on the brief,
for amicus curiae Childrens Law Center.
Fisher, Beckwith, and McLeese, Associate Judges.
Appellant G.D.L. seeks review of an order denying his request
for access to unredacted records relating to his adoption,
including his original birth certificate. We vacate and
remand for further proceedings.
following facts appear to be undisputed. Appellant G.D.L. was
born and adopted in the District of Columbia in the
mid-1960s. In 2000, G.D.L.s biological mother contacted
G.D.L., and the two began to develop a close relationship.
G.D.L. then also got to know his biological mothers family,
including her siblings, G.D.L.s cousins, and G.D.L.s
grandparents. Through these relationships G.D.L. learned his
biological fathers identity, and he communicated with at
least one member of his paternal family. In 2011, G.D.L.
learned through a paternal uncle that his biological father
did not wish to have contact with G.D.L. G.D.L. respected his
biological fathers wish and has had no contact with his
G.D.L.s mother died in 2001, leaving G.D.L. her personal
records and diaries. Those materials were extensive, but few
covered G.D.L.s birth and subsequent adoption proceedings.
In 2016, G.D.L filed a petition requesting a copy of his
original birth certificate on file with the District of
Columbia Department of Health, the Superior Courts records
of his adoption proceedings, and adoption-related documents
in the possession of the child-placement agency.
trial court initially granted G.D.L.s motion in part. The
trial court did not specifically address either the request
for an order directing the Department of Health to disclose
G.D.L.s original birth certificate or the request for
disclosure of the Superior Courts adoption records. Rather,
the trial court focused exclusively on records held by the
child-placement agency. The trial court appeared to assume,
however, that the child-placement agency would have a copy of
the original birth certificate. Although the trial court
focused on records held by the child-placement agency, it
relied on a statute apparently addressing disclosure of court
adoption records. D.C. Code § 16-311 (2019 Supp.) (addressing
disclosure of "the petition, records and papers in
adoption proceedings"). See
In re D.B., 133 A.3d 561, 562 (D.C. 2016) (noting
questions whether § 16-311 applies to adoption records held
by child-placement agencies and whether D.C. Code § 4-1405
(2012 Repl.) applies to such records). Section 16-311
precludes disclosure in the absence of a finding that
"the welfare of the child will thereby be promoted or
protected." D.C. Code § 16-311. The trial court
concluded, however, that the protections of that provision
were inapplicable to G.D.L. because G.D.L. was no longer a
minor. The trial court therefore viewed itself as free to
balance the relevant interests in deciding the motion for
disclosure. In order to "protect [G.D.L.s] birth
fathers privacy as much as possible," the trial court
directed the child-placement agency to give G.D.L. redacted