March 13, 2015
from Baldwin Circuit Court. (DR-11-901937.02).
Presiding Judge. Pittman, Thomas, Moore, and Donaldson, JJ.,
THOMPSON, Presiding Judge.
(" 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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 __, __ (Ala.Civ.App. 2014)
(quoting Morgan Bldg. & Spas, Inc. v. Gillett, 762
So.2d 366, 368 (Ala.Civ.App. 2000)).
In Alabama, there are two exceptions to the operation of the
doctrine of res judicata with respect to paternity judgments:
Rule 60(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P., and § 26-17A-1."
S.C.G. v. J.G.Y., 794 So.2d 399, 404 (Ala.Civ.App.
2000). At both the July 7, 2014, hearing and
the September 4, 2014, hearing, the wife argued that the
husband's action was barred by the doctrine of res
judicata. However, on appeal
the wife concedes that § 26-17A-1 provides an exception
to the application of the doctrine of res judicata in
paternity actions, but she argues that the husband has not
presented the scientific evidence required for the §
26-17A-1(a) exception to be applicable.
Section 26-17A-1(a) does not provide that a defendant in a
prior paternity proceeding, upon presenting scientific
evidence indicating that he is not the natural father of a
child, is automatically entitled to the entry of a judgment
determining that he is not the father of the child. Section
26-17A-1(a) simply provides that the case shall be reopened
upon presentation of such evidence. A determination as to
whether the defendant in the prior paternity proceeding has
been successful in showing that he is not the father is a
determination on the merits that is to be decided after the
case has been reopened.
in Alabama is scarce regarding what constitutes scientific
evidence that is sufficient to reopen a paternity case under
§ 26-17A-1(a). Research has revealed no delineation of
the " precise contours" of scientific evidence that
is sufficient to reopen a paternity case under §
26-17A-1(a). McDaniel v. McDaniel, 716 So.2d 737,
739 (Ala.Civ.App. 1998).
the facts in R.P., supra, are similar to the facts of this
case. In R.P., the Madison Juvenile Court adjudicated R.P. to
be the father of C.R. One year later, R.P. filed a motion in
the juvenile court requesting DNA testing to assist him in
proving that he was not C.R.'s father. R.P. attached to
his motion a report that, he said, contained genetic-testing
results demonstrating that he was not C.R.'s natural
father. However, that report indicated on its face that it
could not be relied upon as legal evidence of parentage.
Thus, the juvenile court denied R.P.'s motion because,
the court ruled, it " did not have any scientific
evidence before it to justify reopening the case for a
consideration on the merits." 963 So.2d at 92.
Approximately two months later, R.P. filed a petition to
reopen the proceedings to reexamine the determination
regarding the paternity of C.R. R.P. attached to his petition
a second report containing additional genetic-testing results
that, R.P. said, constituted scientific evidence
demonstrating that there was a 0% probability that he was
C.R.'s natural father. R.P. contains no specifics
regarding the test results R.P. presented, other than stating
that it was a " genetic test." The juvenile court
dismissed R.P.'s petition on the ground of res judicata.
On appeal, this court reversed, holding that
" [i]n his May 31, 2006, petition to reopen, R.P. claims
that a May 24, 2006, genetic test constitutes scientific
evidence that there is 0% probability that he is the
biological father of C.R. He seeks to reopen the prior
paternity order pursuant to § 26-17A--1. ... We hold
that R.P. has stated a valid claim for relief under §
26-17A--1 that is not barred by the doctrine of res
present case, the husband presented a LabCorp report
containing DNA analysis of the husband and the child. Based
on that analysis, the report reflected that the husband's
probability of paternity of the child is 0%. Thus, similar to
our holding in R.P., we hold that the husband has presented
scientific evidence sufficient to reopen the proceedings to
reexamine the previous paternity determination pursuant to
reversing the trial court's dismissal of the
husband's action, this court makes no determination on
the merits of the husband's claim. We simply hold that
the report the husband presented constituted scientific
evidence sufficient to reopen the
proceedings to reexamine the previous paternity determination
regarding the child and that the husband's action should
not have been dismissed on the ground of res judicata. The
trial court will have the opportunity on remand to hold a
hearing at which it may receive evidence or, on its own
initiative, order blood tests or DNA tests of the husband,
the wife, and the child to determine whether the husband is
the father of the child.
reasons set forth above, the trial court's judgment of
dismissal is reversed and the cause is remanded to the trial
court with instructions to conduct further proceedings
consistent with this opinion.
AND REMANDED WITH INSTRUCTIONS.
Thomas, Moore, and Donaldson, JJ., concur.
Although the husband's petition is
styled as a motion to modify the parties' divorce
judgment, the substance of his petition seeks to reopen
proceedings to reexamine the determination regarding the
paternity of the child. See Ex parte Alfa Mut. Gen. Ins.
Co., 684 So.2d 1281, 1282 (Ala. 1996)( " The
'character of a pleading is determined and interpreted
from its essential substance, and not from its descriptive
name or title.'" (quoting Union Springs Tel. Co.
v. Green, 285 Ala. 114, 117, 229 So.2d 503, 505
Although § 26-17A-1(a) refers to
" the defendant in a paternity proceeding," our
supreme court has held that " [t]he phrase
'paternity proceeding' is a broad phrase, and its
plain meaning encompasses any legal proceeding at which
paternity is determined." Ex parte Jenkins, 723
So.2d 649, 653 n. 2 (Ala. 1998).
 Section 26-17A-1 is not applicable to
paternity judgments that became final before April 26, 1994,
the date the statute was enacted. See Ex parte
Jenkins, 723 So.2d 649, 660 (Ala. 1998).