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Brown v. Harper

Supreme Court of South Carolina

September 29, 2014

Jennifer Brown, Petitioner,
Baby Girl Harper, a minor under the age of seven, and Holly Lawrence, Respondents

Heard September 23, 2014.

Appeal From Charleston County. Appellate Case No. 2014-001746. Ronald R. Norton, Family Court Judge.

John S. Nichols, of Bluestein Nichols Thompson & Delgado, LLC, of Columbia, and Shannon Phillips Jones, of Shannon Jones, Attorney at Law, LLC, of Charleston, for Petitioner.

Allison Boyd Bullard, of Harling & West, LLC, of Lexington, and James Fletcher Thompson, of James Fletcher Thompson, LLC, of Spartanburg, for Respondent.



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Petitioner Jennifer Brown (Adoptive Mother) appeals the court of appeals' decision affirming the family court order finding Respondent Holly Lawrence's (Birth Mother) consent to adoption was invalid and requiring immediate return of Baby Girl Harper (Baby Girl) to Birth Mother. We affirm.

Facts/Procedural Background

Birth Mother, a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, gave birth to Baby Girl on October 27, 2013, in Pineville, North Carolina. On October 30, 2013, Birth Mother signed a Consent to Adoption form (the Consent) in Charleston, South Carolina, in which she consented to Adoptive Mother's adoption of Baby Girl.

[410 S.C. 448] Birth Mother was twenty-three years old when she learned that she was pregnant very late in the pregnancy. She received no prenatal care. She did not tell her parents she was pregnant, even though she lived with them. She gave birth alone after presenting to the emergency room when she went into labor with Baby Girl. Shortly after the birth, Birth Mother mentioned to hospital staff that she might be interested in placing Baby Girl for adoption. The hospital social worker advised her that, under North Carolina law, she could not make any decision regarding adoption for twenty-four hours following the birth. Other hospital workers were aware that Birth Mother was considering adoption, including the nurse midwife who delivered Baby Girl. The nurse midwife told Birth Mother that the nurse midwife's cousin in South Carolina, Adoptive Mother, was considering adoption, and gave her Adoptive Mother's telephone number.[1]

On October 28, Birth Mother and Adoptive Mother spoke via telephone about a potential adoption, and Adoptive Mother indicated that she would contact a lawyer. Birth Mother and Adoptive Mother also verbally agreed that the adoption would be an " open" adoption, which would mean Birth Mother could have visitation, send cards, and otherwise be a part of Baby Girl's life. At some point that same day, Birth Mother was informed that after inquiring with several attorneys, Adoptive Mother could not afford to adopt Baby Girl.

Birth Mother was discharged from the hospital on October 28 prior to Baby Girl's release. On October 29, the nurse midwife called Birth Mother to inform her that Adoptive Mother found a lawyer to assist her with the adoption. From that point, it appears from the Record that attempts were made to conceal the pending adoption. For example,

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in one text message exchange between Birth Mother and Adoptive Mother, Adoptive Mother stated, " [D]on't tell anyone you are coming here." Furthermore, the nurse midwife hid her vehicle behind bushes at the hospital so that her colleagues could not see her collecting Birth Mother and Baby Girl to transport them to South Carolina.

[410 S.C. 449] The nurse midwife bought a car seat and drove Birth Mother and Baby Girl to Columbia. There, they met Adoptive Mother's sister, who drove them the rest of the way to Charleston. The sister paid for Birth Mother and Baby Girl to stay in a local hotel overnight. The next morning, Birth Mother and Baby Girl went to Adoptive Mother's lawyer's office to execute the Consent and related documents. This was the first time that Birth Mother and Adoptive Mother met. Upon meeting, Adoptive Mother testified that they hugged and cried. Birth Mother assured Adoptive Mother she was not going to change her mind. Adoptive Mother felt that Birth Mother was certain about going forward with the adoption.

Adoptive Mother's lawyer rented office space in an executive suite shared by other law firms, including the law firm where the attorney-witness worked.[2] On the morning of the adoption, Adoptive Mother's lawyer asked the attorney-witness to act as a witness to the execution of the Consent. In addition, Adoptive Mother's lawyer asked a legal assistant from another law firm that also shared the office suite to be the second witness to the adoption.[3]

Birth Mother's signature appears on the Consent and other relevant forms, and she stipulated at the hearing that she ...

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