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R.R.C. v. D.G.C.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

March 13, 2015

R.R.C.
v.
D.G.C

          Appeal from Baldwin Circuit Court. (DR-11-901937.02).

         THOMPSON, Presiding Judge. Pittman, Thomas, Moore, and Donaldson, JJ., concur.

          OPINION

Page 165

          THOMPSON, Presiding Judge.

         R.R.C. (" the husband" ) appeals from the dismissal by the Baldwin Circuit Court (" the trial court" ) of his petition to reopen proceedings to reexamine the determination as to the paternity C.R.C. (" the child" ), a child born during the husband's marriage to D.G.C. (" the wife" ).[1]

         The parties were divorced by a judgment of the trial court on May 11, 2012. Pursuant to the divorce judgment, the husband was required to pay $1,160 per month in child support. Although the divorce judgment made no express adjudication of paternity, a judgment " requiring a man to pay child support is an implicit determination of paternity." See Ex parte Washington, [Ms. 2140163, Feb. 20, 2015] __ So.3d __, __ (Ala.Civ.App. 2015). On May 14, 2014, the husband, having reason to believe he is not the child's natural father, filed a petition seeking to reopen proceedings to reexamine the determination regarding the paternity of the child, pursuant to § 26-17A-1, Ala. Code 1975. Section 26-17A-1(a) provides:

" Upon petition of the defendant in a paternity proceeding where the defendant has been declared the legal father, the case shall be reopened if there is scientific evidence presented by the defendant that he is not the father. The court shall admit into evidence any scientific test recognized by the court that

Page 166

has been conducted in accordance with established scientific principles or the court may order a blood test, or a Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid test of the mother, father, and child. Whenever the court orders a test and any of the persons to be tested refuse to submit to the test, the fact shall be disclosed at the trial, unless good cause is shown." [2]

         With his petition, the husband included a report from Laboratory Corporation of America (" LabCorp" ) that, based on deoxyribonucleic acid (" DNA" ) analysis of the husband and the child, determined that the husband's probability of paternity of the child is 0%. Based on that evidence, the husband asked the trial court to enter a judgment adjudicating that he is not the child's father. That same day, the husband also filed a separate motion requesting a stay of his child-support obligation pending the trial court's ruling on the paternity issue.

         On June 24, 2014, the wife filed in the trial court a motion to dismiss the husband's action. The wife argued that the husband had not challenged the paternity of the child during the divorce proceedings and that he had not appealed the divorce judgment; consequently, she argued, a redetermination of the child's paternity was barred by the doctrine of res judicata.

         On July 7, 2014, the trial court held a hearing on the wife's motion to dismiss; the trial court entered a judgment dismissing the husband's action that same day. The husband filed a motion to alter, amend, or vacate the judgment, and a hearing was held on that motion on September 4, 2014. That motion was denied, and the husband timely appealed.

         On appeal, the husband argues that the trial court erred in dismissing his action based on the doctrine of res judicata. Although the trial court's judgment does not state its ground for dismissal, the transcript of the hearing indicates that the trial court dismissed the husband's action because " [i]t involves the same parties. It's the same issue." Thus, we infer that the trial court based its dismissal of the husband's action on the doctrine of res judicata.

          " When a trial court dismisses claims based on the doctrine of res judicata, the application of that doctrine is a question of law that must be reviewed de novo." R.P. v. State ex rel. M.G.R.,963 So.2d 88, 91 (Ala.Civ.App. 2007). When an " 'appeal concerns only questions of law, there is no presumption of correctness in favor of the trial court's judgment.'" F.M. v. B.S., [Ms. 2130266, Dec. 5, 2014] __ So.3d __, __ ...


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