Ex parte B.C.; (In re: A.H.
PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS. (Limestone Juvenile Court, JU-13-25.01; Court of Civil Appeals, 2120877).
For Petitioner: Michael C. Sizemore, The Sizemore Law Group, Athens.
BOLIN, Justice. Stuart, Parker, Murdock, Main, Wise, and Bryan, JJ., concur. Shaw, J., concurs in the result.
This Court granted B.C.'s petition for certiorari review based on our recent decision in
Ex parte L.J., [Ms. 1121462, September 30, 2014] 176 So.3d 186(Ala. 2014), in which this Court held that a juvenile court may exercise jurisdiction under § 12-15-114, Ala. Code 1975, of the Alabama Juvenile Justice Act, § 12-15-101 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 (" the AJJA" ), over a termination-of-parental-rights action when the subject of the termination was not a
child alleged " to have committed a delinquent act, to be dependent, or to be in need of supervision." We reverse and remand.
Facts and Procedural History
In 2008, B.C. (" the mother" ) gave birth to a child. In October 2010, the Limestone Juvenile Court entered a judgment adjudicating A.H. (" the father" ) to be the father of the child. On February 13, 2013, the mother filed a petition in the juvenile court seeking to terminate the father's parental rights to the child. In her petition, the mother alleged that the father had abandoned the child, that he had failed to maintain contact with the child, that he had failed to adjust his circumstances to fit the needs of the child, and that he had failed to provide financial support for the child. The mother did not allege that the child was dependent, delinquent, or in need of supervision.
On June 25, 2013, the juvenile court conducted a hearing on the mother's petition at which ore tenus evidence was presented. The father did not attend the hearing, but he was represented by legal counsel at that hearing. The father's attorney moved to dismiss the termination-of-parental-rights proceeding on the ground of lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because, he argued, § 12-15-114(a), Ala. Code 1975, grants the juvenile court exclusive original jurisdiction only over those juvenile proceedings in which the child is alleged to be dependent, delinquent, or in need of supervision. Section 12-15-114(a) states that " [a] dependency action shall not include a custody dispute between parents." Before an amendment to the AJJA effective April 9, 2014, § 12-15-114(c) provided that the juvenile court also had exclusive original jurisdiction over proceedings " arising out of the above juvenile court proceedings," i.e., arising out of dependency, delinquency, and child-in-need-of-supervision proceedings, as set out in subsection (a). The father noted that former § 12-15-30(b)(6), Ala. Code 1975 (which had been part of the AJJA prior to 2008 amendments to the AJJA revising, renumbering, and merging the AJJA with the Child Protection Act, § 26-18-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 (" the CPA" )), provided that the juvenile court had jurisdiction over all termination-of-parental-rights proceedings. The father asserted that the legislature, when it enacted § 12-15-114, limited the juvenile court's jurisdiction in termination-of-parental-rights proceedings to those cases " arising out of" dependency, delinquency, and child-in-need-of-supervision proceedings. Because the mother did not allege that the child was dependent, i.e., without a fit parent to provide for the child's care, the father argued that she, as a custodial parent, could not seek termination of his parental rights in the juvenile court. The juvenile court denied the father's motion to dismiss.
On June 27, 2013, the juvenile court entered a judgment terminating the father's parental rights. In that judgment, the juvenile court did not make a finding that the child was dependent, delinquent, or in need of supervision. The father timely filed his notice of appeal. A majority of the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the judgment of the juvenile court, holding that the judgment was void because the mother's petition to terminate the father's parental rights did not arise out of a dependency, delinquency, or child-in-need-of-supervision proceeding as required by § 12-15-114. A.H. v. B.C., [Ms. 2120877, November 15, 2013] 178 So.3d 850 (Ala.Civ.App. 2013).
In Ex parte L.J., supra, this Court explained that the 2008 amendments to the AJJA, which became effective January 1, 2009, ...