Minimum contacts personal jurisdiction analysis not applicable to contested multi-state adoption action

The July 13, 2009 Court of Appeals decision in Brookshire v. Blackwell, 384 S.C. 333, 682 S.E.2d 295 (Ct.App. 2009) clarifies personal and subject matter jurisdiction analysis as it regards multi-state adoption action.

In this case the Brookshires, South Carolina residents, were awarded custody of the Blackwells’ children by the Alabama Courts.  The Brookshires then filed an adoption action in South Carolina and the mother, Ms. Blackwell (now Ms. Chambers), tried to have the South Carolina action dismissed due to this state’s alleged lack of personal jurisdiction over her.  The family court found that it lacked personal jurisdiction over the mother and dismissed the Brookshires’ adoption action.  They appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court but adopted a different reasoning.  It found that the UCCJA (now the UCCJEA [S.C. Code Ann. § 63-15-300 et seq.) jurisdictional analysis, rather than a personal jurisdiction minimum contacts analysis, applied to contested multi-state adoption actions.  Because there was a current custody order from Alabama (the order giving the Brookshires custody) and because mother remained an Alabama resident, Alabama needed to decline jurisdiction before the South Carolina court could decide custody.  The Court of Appeals further held that, absent mother’s consent, an action to terminate mother’s parental rights was a necessary precondition for any adoption, and that such an action was in the nature of a custody proceeding.

Thus jurisdiction for contested adoption proceedings against non residents do not require a showing of personal jurisdiction over the non resident but do require jurisdiction under the UCCJEA and PKPA [28 U.S.C. § 1738A].

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