`Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2016)
`Per Curiam
`V. L. v. E. L., ET AL.
`No. 15–648 Decided March 7, 2016
` A Georgia court entered a final judgment of adoption
`making petitioner V. L. a legal parent of the children that
`she and respondent E. L. had raised together from birth.
`V. L. and E. L. later separated while living in Alabama.
`V. L. asked the Alabama courts to enforce the Georgia
`judgment and grant her custody or visitation rights. The
`Alabama Supreme Court ruled against her, holding that
`the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States
`Constitution does not require the Alabama courts to re-
`spect the Georgia judgment. That judgment of the Ala-
`bama Supreme Court is now reversed by this summary
` V. L. and E. L. are two women who were in a relation-
`ship from approximately 1995 until 2011. Through as-
`sisted reproductive technology, E. L. gave birth to a child
`named S. L. in 2002 and to twins named N. L. and H. L. in
`2004. After the children were born, V. L. and E. L. raised
`them together as joint parents.
` V. L. and E. L. eventually decided to give legal status to
`the relationship between V. L. and the children by having
`V. L. formally adopt them. To facilitate the adoption, the
`couple rented a house in Alpharetta, Georgia. V. L. then
`filed an adoption petition in the Superior Court of Fulton
`County, Georgia. E. L. also appeared in that proceeding.
`While not relinquishing her own parental rights, she gave
`her express consent to V. L.’s adoption of the children as a

`V. L. v. E. L.
`Per Curiam
`second parent. The Georgia court determined that V. L.
`had complied with the applicable requirements of Georgia
`law, and entered a final decree of adoption allowing V. L.
`to adopt the children and recognizing both V. L. and E. L.
`as their legal parents.
` V. L. and E. L. ended their relationship in 2011, while
`living in Alabama, and V. L. moved out of the house that
`the couple had shared. V. L. later filed a petition in the
`Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama, alleging that
`E. L. had denied her access to the children and interfered
`with her ability to exercise her parental rights. She asked
`the Alabama court to register the Georgia adoption judg-
`ment and award her some measure of custody or visitation
`rights. The matter was transferred to the Family Court of
`Jefferson County. That court entered an order awarding
`V. L. scheduled visitation with the children.
` E. L. appealed the visitation order to the Alabama Court
`of Civil Appeals. She argued, among other points, that the
`Alabama courts should not recognize the Georgia judg-
`ment because the Georgia court lacked subject-matter
`jurisdiction to enter it. The Court of Civil Appeals rejected
`that argument. It held, however, that the Alabama family
`court had erred by failing to conduct an evidentiary hear-
`ing before awarding V. L. visitation rights, and so it re-
`manded for the family court to conduct that hearing.
` The Alabama Supreme Court reversed. It held that the
`Georgia court had no subject-matter jurisdiction under
`Georgia law to enter a judgment allowing V. L. to adopt
`the children while still recognizing E. L.’s parental rights.
`As a consequence, the Alabama Supreme Court held Ala-
`bama courts were not required to accord full faith and
`credit to the Georgia judgment.
` The Constitution provides that “Full Faith and Credit
`shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records,

`Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2016)
`Per Curiam
`and judicial Proceedings of every other State.” U. S.
`Const., Art. IV, §1. That Clause requires each State to
`recognize and give effect to valid judgments rendered by
`the courts of its sister States. It serves “to alter the status
`of the several states as independent foreign sovereignties,
`each free to ignore obligations created under the laws or
`by the judicial proceedings of the others, and to make
`them integral parts of a single nation.” Milwaukee County
`v. M. E. White Co., 296 U. S. 268, 277 (1935).
` With respect to judgments, “the full faith and credit
`obligation is exacting.” Baker v. General Motors Corp.,
`522 U. S. 222, 233 (1998). “A final judgment in one State,
`if rendered by a court with adjudicatory authority over the
`subject matter and persons governed by the judgment,
`qualifies for recognition throughout the land.” Ibid. A
`State may not disregard the judgment of a sister State
`because it disagrees with the reasoning underlying the
`judgment or deems it to be wrong on the merits. On the
`contrary, “the full faith and credit clause of the Constitu-
`tion precludes any inquiry into the merits of the cause of
`action, the logic or consistency of the decision, or the valid-
`ity of the legal principles on which the judgment is based.”
`Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U. S. 457, 462 (1940).
` A State is not required, however, to afford full faith and
`credit to a judgment rendered by a court that “did not
`have jurisdiction over the subject matter or the relevant
`parties.” Underwriters Nat. Assurance Co. v. North Caro-
`lina Life & Accident & Health Ins. Guaranty Assn., 455
`U. S. 691, 705 (1982). “Consequently, before a court is
`bound by [a] judgment rendered in another State, it may
`inquire into the jurisdictional basis of the foreign court’s
`decree.” Ibid. That jurisdictional inquiry, however, is a
`limited one. “[I]f the judgment on its face appears to be a
`‘record of a court of general jurisdiction, such jurisdiction
`over the cause and the parties is to be presumed unless
`disproved by extrinsic evidence, or by the record itself.’ ”

`V. L. v. E. L.
`Per Curiam
`Milliken, supra, at 462 (quoting Adam v. Saenger, 303
`U. S. 59, 62 (1938)).
` Those principles resolve this case. Under Georgia law,
`as relevant here, “[t]he superior courts of the several
`counties shall have exclusive jurisdiction in all matters of
`adoption.” Ga. Code Ann. §19–8–2(a) (2015). That provi-
`sion on its face gave the Georgia Superior Court subject-
`matter jurisdiction to hear and decide the adoption peti-
`tion at issue here. The Superior Court resolved that
`matter by entering a final judgment that made V. L. the
`legal adoptive parent of the children. Whatever the merits of
`that judgment, it was within the statutory grant of juris-
`diction over “all matters of adoption.” Ibid. The Georgia
`court thus had the “adjudicatory authority over the subject
`matter” required to entitle its judgment to full faith and
`credit. Baker, supra, at 233.
` The Alabama Supreme Court reached a different result
`by relying on Ga. Code Ann. §19–8–5(a). That statute
`states (as relevant here) that “a child who has any living
`parent or guardian may be adopted by a third party . . .
`only if each such living parent and each such guardian has
`voluntarily and in writing surrendered all of his or her
`rights to such child.” The Alabama Supreme Court con-
`cluded that this provision prohibited the Georgia Superior
`Court from allowing V. L. to adopt the children while also
`allowing E. L. to keep her existing parental rights. It
`further concluded that this provision went not to the
`merits but to the Georgia court’s subject-matter jurisdic-
`tion. In reaching that crucial second conclusion, the Ala-
`bama Supreme Court seems to have relied solely on the
`fact that the right to adoption under Georgia law is purely
`statutory, and “ ‘[t]he requirements of Georgia’s adoptions
`statutes are mandatory and must be strictly construed in
`favor of the natural parents.’ ” App. to Pet. for Cert. 23a–
`24a (quoting In re Marks, 300 Ga. App. 239, 243, 684 S. E.
`2d 364, 367 (2009)).

`Cite as: 577 U. S. ____ (2016)
`Per Curiam
` That analysis is not consistent with this Court’s control-
`ling precedent. Where a judgment indicates on its face
`that it was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction,
`such jurisdiction “ ‘is to be presumed unless disproved.’ ”
`Milliken, supra, at 462 (quoting Adam, supra, at 62).
`There is nothing here to rebut that presumption. The
`Georgia statute on which the Alabama Supreme Court
`relied, Ga. Code Ann. §19–8–5(a), does not speak in juris-
`dictional terms; for instance, it does not say that a Georgia
`court “shall have jurisdiction to enter an adoption decree”
`only if each existing parent or guardian has surrendered
`his or her parental rights. Neither the Georgia Supreme
`Court nor any Georgia appellate court, moreover, has
`construed §19–8–5(a) as jurisdictional. That construction
`would also be difficult to reconcile with Georgia law.
`Georgia recognizes that in general, subject-matter juris-
`diction addresses “whether a court has jurisdiction to
`decide a particular class of cases,” Goodrum v. Goodrum,
`283 Ga. 163, 657 S. E. 2d 192 (2008), not whether a court
`should grant relief in any given case. Unlike §19–8–2(a),
`which expressly gives Georgia superior courts “exclusive
`jurisdiction in all matters of adoption,” §19–8–5(a) does
`not speak to whether a court has the power to decide a
`general class of cases. It only provides a rule of decision to
`apply in determining if a particular adoption should be
` Section 19–8–5(a) does not become jurisdictional just
`because it is “ ‘mandatory’ ” and “ ‘must be strictly con-
`strued.’ ” App. to Pet. for Cert. 23a–24a (quoting Marks,
`supra, at 243, 684 S. E. 2d, at 367). This Court “has long
`rejected the notion that all mandatory prescriptions,
`however emphatic, are properly typed jurisdictional.”
`Gonzalez v. Thaler, 565 U. S. 134, ___ (2012) (slip op., at
`10–11) (internal quotation marks and ellipsis omitted).
`Indeed, the Alabama Supreme Court’s reasoning would
`give jurisdictional status to every requirement of the Geor-

`V. L. v. E. L.
`Per Curiam
`gia adoption statutes, since Georgia law indicates those
`requirements are all mandatory and must be strictly
`construed. Marks, supra, at 243, 684 S. E. 2d, at 367.
`That result would comport neither with Georgia law nor
`with common sense.
` As Justice Holmes observed more than a century ago, “it
`sometimes may be difficult to decide whether certain
`words in a statute are directed to jurisdiction or to merits.”
`Fauntleroy v. Lum, 210 U. S. 230, 234–235 (1908). In such
`cases, especially where the Full Faith and Credit Clause is
`concerned, a court must be “slow to read ambiguous
`words, as meaning to leave the judgment open to dispute,
`or as intended to do more than fix the rule by which the
`court should decide.” Id., at 235. That time-honored rule
`controls here. The Georgia judgment appears on its face
`to have been issued by a court with jurisdiction, and there
`is no established Georgia law to the contrary. It follows
`that the Alabama Supreme Court erred in refusing to
`grant that judgment full faith and credit.
` The petition for writ of certiorari is granted. The judg-
`ment of the Alabama Supreme Court is reversed, and the
`case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent
`with this opinion.
`It is so ordered.

This document is available on Docket Alarm but you must sign up to view it.

Or .

Accessing this document will incur an additional charge of $.

After purchase, you can access this document again without charge.

Accept $ Charge

This document could not be displayed.

We could not find this document within its docket. Please go back to the docket page and check the link. If that does not work, go back to the docket and refresh it to pull the newest information.

Your account does not support viewing this document.

You need a Paid Account to view this document. Click here to change your account type.

Your account does not support viewing this document.

Set your membership status to view this document.

With a Docket Alarm membership, you'll get a whole lot more, including:

  • Up-to-date information for this case.
  • Email alerts whenever there is an update.
  • Full text search for other cases.
  • Get email alerts whenever a new case matches your search.

Become a Member

One Moment Please

The filing “” is large (MB) and is being downloaded.

Please refresh this page in a few minutes to see if the filing has been downloaded. The filing will also be emailed to you when the download completes.

Sealed Document

We are unable to display this document, it may be under a court ordered seal.

If you have proper credentials to access the file, you may proceed directly to the court's system using your government issued username and password.

Access Government Site

We are redirecting you
to a mobile optimized page.

Document Unreadable or Corrupt

Refresh this Document
Go to the Docket

We are unable to display this document.

Refresh this Document
Go to the Docket