Case: E.L. v. V.L.

13-00719 | Alabama state trial court

Filed Date: Oct. 31, 2013

Closed Date: 2016

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Case Summary

On October 31, 2013, the plaintiff, V.L., filed this lawsuit against her ex-partner, E.L., in Alabama state court. Represented both by private counsel and a lawyer from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, V.L. asked the court, under Alabama common law, to recognize a Georgia judgment which made her a legal adoptive co-parent of E.L.'s biological children, to declare that the Georgia judgment gave V.L. legal rights to those children, to grant V.L. custody or joint custody of the children, an…

On October 31, 2013, the plaintiff, V.L., filed this lawsuit against her ex-partner, E.L., in Alabama state court. Represented both by private counsel and a lawyer from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, V.L. asked the court, under Alabama common law, to recognize a Georgia judgment which made her a legal adoptive co-parent of E.L.'s biological children, to declare that the Georgia judgment gave V.L. legal rights to those children, to grant V.L. custody or joint custody of the children, and to order E.L. to pay child support and attorneys’ fees.

According to the opinion of the Supreme Court of Alabama, the plaintiff alleged the following in her complaint. She and her ex-partner were in a same-sex relationship between 1995 and 2011. During that time her ex-partner gave birth to three children. Together the plaintiff and her ex-partner raised the children as co-parents. In 2007, the plaintiff and her then-partner traveled to Fulton County, Georgia to obtain an adoption. Usually, the rights of the biological parent must be terminated for someone who is not the parent’s spouse to obtain an adoption, but Fulton County had been rumored to make exceptions. Of course, the relationship took place before the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, so the plaintiff and her then-partner could not get married to make obtaining the adoption easier. The Georgia Court, in order to grant the adoption, required the plaintiff and her ex-partner to become “bona fide” residents of Georgia for six months, meaning that the plaintiff and her partner had to live and work in Georgia. Instead, because they were both from Alabama and had jobs there, they rented a house in Alpharetta, Georgia from a friend but did not spend more than two nights in it. The Georgia court, however, did not know this, and granted the adoption on May 30, 2007. V.L. and E.L. ended their relationship in late 2011.

After the complaint was submitted on October 31, 2013, the court transferred the case to family court on November 4, 2013. On December 17, 2013, E.L. moved to dismiss, arguing that the family court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. Dispute over the motion to dismiss lasted through March of 2014.

On April 3, 2014, without a hearing, the family court denied E.L.’s motion to dismiss and awarded V.L. scheduled visitation. On April 17, 2014, E.L. asked the family court to amend or vacate its judgment; this motion was denied on May 1, 2014. On May 12, 2014, the E.L. filed notice of appeal.

At the Alabama Appeals Court, the main question was whether or not the family court had subject-matter jurisdiction to enforce a foreign (i.e. Georgia) judgment. The Appeals Court, on February 27, 2015, agreed that the family court had the specific jurisdiction to enforce the Georgia judgment because of the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (the UEFJA), which states that a upon compliance with filing provisions, a judgment entered in a foreign jurisdiction that is entitled to full faith and credit may be enforced in Alabama.

However, before giving effect to foreign judgments Alabama courts are permitted to inquire into the foreign judgment’s jurisdiction. They consider two issues: (1) whether the issue of jurisdiction was fully and fairly litigated; and (2) whether the issue of jurisdiction was finally decided by the court. E.L., the biological mother, contended that because at the time of the adoption, they did not actually reside in Georgia, the adoption did not properly invoke the jurisdiction of the Georgia courts. However, the judgment of the Georgia court noted that E.L. and V.L. and met the residency requirements, and according to Georgia law, “decrees of adoptions…shall not be subject to any judicial challenge filed more than six months after the date of entry of such decree.” Georgia law prevented attacking jurisdiction on the grounds of lack of residency. The court held that Georgia did have subject-matter jurisdiction over the adoption.

Finally, the Alabama appeals court decided that the Georgia judgment was entitled to full faith and credit because the Georgia court had appropriate jurisdiction. Although Alabama itself would not have granted the adoption, the United States Supreme Court has said that there is “no roving ‘public policy exception; to the full faith and credit due judgments.’” The court did note that the biological mother should have received a hearing as to the best interests of the child, however, so the case was reversed and remanded. It was clear though, that the Court of Appeals found the Georgia adoption valid.

E.L. appealed again, this time to the Alabama Supreme Court, which issued its opinion on September 18, 2015. This court held for E.L., the biological mother, that the Georgia adoption decree was unenforceable in Alabama. It held that the Georgia court had violated Georgia law when it entered a judgment allowing V.L. to adopt the children while still recognizing E.L.’s parental rights. This error, the Alabama Supreme Court held, deprived the Georgia court of jurisdiction to enter the adoption order, and therefore Alabama's courts were not required to accord full faith and credit to the Georgia judgment.

The final appeal, by V.L., was to the Supreme Court of the United States, which granted certiorari review and reversed, per curiam, on March 7, 2016. The Supreme Court noted that Georgia Superior Courts have exclusive jurisdiction in all matters of adoption. According to the Court, that provision alone gave Georgia the right to issue the V.L.’s adoption of E.L.’s biological children, whatever the merits of its judgment under Georgia law. The requirements of state law, the U.S. Supreme Court explained, set out "rules of decision"--not jurisdictional rules. Thus even if the Georgia court erred in allowing the adoption (which, of course, the Supreme Court did not decide on the merits) that error wouldn't mean that its judgment wasn't deserving of full faith and credit.

So the Supreme Court held that the Alabama Supreme Court’s analysis of the validity of the adoption was inconsistent with the Full Faith and Credit Clause, and reversed and remanded. 136 S.Ct. 1017

On remand, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals; V.L. was the adoptive mother of the children, and the last step in the case was a remand for an ordinary hearing on the best interests of the children in setting up visitation and custodial arrangements.

Summary Authors

Megan Brown (3/18/2017)

People


Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Peterson, Breauna R (Alabama)

Sakimura, Catherine (California)

Vella, Traci Owen (Alabama)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Duward, Anne Lamkin (Alabama)

Nichols, Randall W (Alabama)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Smith, Tobie J (Alabama)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Peterson, Breauna R (Alabama)

Sakimura, Catherine (California)

Vella, Traci Owen (Alabama)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Duward, Anne Lamkin (Alabama)

Nichols, Randall W (Alabama)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Smith, Tobie J (Alabama)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Supreme Court of Alabama Opinion

Ex parte E.L.

Alabama state supreme court

2015 WL 5511249

Sept. 18, 2015

Sept. 18, 2015

Order/Opinion

15-00648

Supreme Court of the United States of Alabama

Supreme Court of the United States

136 S.Ct. 1017

March 7, 2016

March 7, 2016

Order/Opinion

2130683

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals Opinion

Alabama state appellate court

208 So.3d 1094, 2015 WL 836916

Feb. 27, 2017

Feb. 27, 2017

Order/Opinion

Resources

Docket

Last updated Aug. 16, 2022, 3:15 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Alabama

Case Type(s):

Public Benefits/Government Services

Special Collection(s):

Same-Sex Marriage

Key Dates

Filing Date: Oct. 31, 2013

Closing Date: 2016

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

An Alabama woman whose children adopted through her parenting role in her same-sex relationship.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

E.L., Private Entity/Person

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Constitutional Clause(s):

Full faith and credit

Availably Documents:

Non-settlement Outcome

Any published opinion

U.S. Supreme Court merits opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Declaratory Judgment

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Order Duration: 2016 - None

Issues

General:

Adoption

Gay/lesbian/transgender

Discrimination-basis:

Sexual orientatation