From: Robert Freeman
Date: 11/26/2003 1:59:33 PM
I have received your correspondence concerning access to adoption records. To clarify, it was agreed among those present at yesterday's gathering that there appears to be no judicial decision that has considered whether the confidentiality requirements imposed by section 114 of the Domestic Relations Law were intended to be prospective when they were initially enacted in 1938 or retroactive. It is noted that I also attempted to find the original statute pertaining to adoption that was enacted in 1909 without success.
Having reviewed the summaries of judicial decisions rendered in relation to disclosure, it seems clear that a court order is necessary to unseal the records, and that "good cause" must be demonstrated before a court will consider so doing. Several cases suggest that good cause can be demonstrated upon a showing of psychological trauma, medical need or religious identity crisis [see Alma Soc. v. Mellon, 601 F.2d 1225 (1979)] or when there is a realistic possibility of some genetic or hereditary factor in a person's background that might foretell a problem [Re Chattman, 57 AD2d 618 (1977)].
In short, it appears that an attempt to obtain a court order to unseal the records based on a showing of good cause would likely serve as the best or perhaps the only method of attempting to gain access.
I regret that I cannot be of greater assistance and wish you a happy holiday.
Robert J. Freeman
NYS Committee on Open Government
41 State Street
Albany, NY 12231
(518) 474-2518 - Phone
(518) 474-1927 - Fax
Website - www.dos.ny.gov/coog/coogwww.html