April 24, 2015
Morgan County Department of Human Resources
from Morgan Juvenile Court. (JU-13-636.02 and JU-13-637.02).
Appellant: George W. Miller, Hartselle.
Appellee: Luther Strange, atty. gen., and Sharon E.
Ficquette, gen. counsel, and Elizabeth L. Hendrix, asst.
atty. gen., Department of Human Resources.
Judge. Thompson, P.J., and Pittman, Moore, and Donaldson,
(" the mother" ) appeals the judgments of the
Morgan Juvenile Court terminating her parental rights to
W.A.G. and J.L.G. (" the children" ). The
whereabouts of W.G. (" the father" ) are unknown.
The mother's sole issue on appeal is whether the juvenile
court's admitted failure to comply with certain
requirements of § 12-15-320(a), Ala. Code 1975, renders
the judgments void for lack of jurisdiction. Section
12-15-320(a) provides, in its entirety:
" (a) Termination of parental rights cases shall be
given priority over other cases. The trial on the petition
for termination of parental rights shall be completed within
90 days after service of process has been perfected. The
trial court judge shall enter a final order within 30 days of
the completion of the trial."
a de novo standard of review because the issue on appeal
involves pure questions of law. See Espinoza v.
Rudolph, 46 So.3d 403, 412 (Ala. 2010).
October 10, 2013, the juvenile court awarded temporary
custody of the children to the Morgan County Department of
Human Resources (" DHR" ). After a hearing on
February 18, 2014, the juvenile court adjudicated the
children dependent and awarded DHR permanent custody of the
children. The children were placed in foster care.
13, 2014, DHR filed petitions seeking the termination of the
mother's parental rights. The mother was served on
May 30, 2014. A termination-of-parental-rights trial was held
on September 24, 2014. On November 14, 2014, 51 days later,
the juvenile court entered judgments terminating the
mother's parental rights to the children. Both judgments
read, in pertinent part:
" The Court acknowledges that more than 30 days has
elapsed since the conclusion of the testimony and [the
court's] taking the matter under advisement. The Court of
Civil Appeals has held that this is a procedural issue and
does not prevent the entry of an order after said 30 days
unless the same impairs the ability to appeal any decision
rendered in this matter. (M.H. v. Cleburne County
[Department of Human Resources, [Ms. 2130232, July 11, 2014]
158 So.3d 471, 478 (Ala.Civ.App. 2014)]). The Court finds the
appeal of this matter has not been affected by the delay in
the entry of this order."
November 20, 2014, the mother filed motions to alter, amend,
or vacate the judgments, which were denied on November 21,
2014; that same day the mother filed a notice of appeal,
which listed both case numbers.
of subject-matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time by
the parties or by this court ex mero motu, see Burgess v.
Burgess, 99 So.3d 1237, 1239 (Ala.Civ.App. 2012);
however, we do not agree with the mother that the juvenile
court's admitted failure to comply with §
12-15-320(a) created a jurisdictional defect
that renders the juvenile court's judgments void.
mother correctly asserts that § 12-15-320(a) requires a
juvenile court to complete a termination-of-parental-rights
trial within 90 days after service of process " has been
perfected" and that the September 24, 2014,
termination-of-parental-rights trial was not completed within
90 days after service of process on her was perfected on May
30, 2014. The juvenile court's violation of a mandatory
provision of § 12-15-320(a) requires reversal only if
the failure to comply with the statute impaired the
mother's substantial rights. See M.H. v. Cleburne
Cnty. Dep't of Human Res., [Ms. 2130232, July 11,
2014] 158 So.3d 471, 475 (Ala.Civ.App. 2014).
did in M.H., we again find persuasive an opinion of the North
Carolina Court of Appeals in which it construed a statute
similar to § 12-15-320(a). The North Carolina statute
provides that a " hearing on the termination of parental
rights shall be conducted ... no later than 90 days from the
filing of the petition" N.C. Gen. Stat. §
7B-1109(a). Like the mother in the present case, the
petitioner in In re J.T.W., 178 N.C.App. 678, 632
S.E.2d 237 (2006)(reversed on other grounds by In re
J.T.W., 361 N.C. 341, 643 S.E.2d 579 (2007)), argued
that, because the termination trial was not held within 90
days of the filing of the petition, the final order in that
case was due to be vacated. J.T.W., 178 N.C.App. at
686, 632 S.E.2d at 242. The J.T.W. court explained that,
although the trial court's delay clearly violated the
90-day provision of § 7B-1109(a), N.C. Gen. Stat., the
petitioner could not prevail because she had failed to
explain how she was prejudiced by the delay. 178 N.C.App. at
687, 632 S.E.2d at 242. In this case the mother has similarly
failed to explain how she was prejudiced by the delay.
Therefore, although the juvenile court failed to comply with
the 90-day requirement of § 12-15-320(a), the juvenile
court's judgments are not void.
the mother correctly asserts that the juvenile court failed
to enter final orders within 30 days of the completion of the
termination-of-parental-rights trial. The juvenile court is
correct that we encountered the issue of a juvenile
court's failure to comply with the 30-day requirement in
M.H., 158 So.3d at 476. In M.H. we found " no
reason ... to conclude that the legislature intended to
deprive a juvenile court of jurisdiction over a
termination-of-parental-rights action solely because it did
not enter a final judgment within 30 days." Id.
at 476. In reliance on M.H. we again conclude that, although
the juvenile court failed to comply with the 30-day
requirement of § 12-15-320(a), the juvenile court's
judgments are not void. Id. at 476.
we note that we did not, as the juvenile court in this case
stated, hinge our decision in M.H. on an " impair[ment
of] the ability to [file an] appeal." Our legislature
has required priority status of
termination-of-parental-rights cases over other cases. It
bears repeating that our determinations in this case and in
M.H. should not be read as endorsements of failures to meet
statutory deadlines. Id. at 482.
conclusion, the mother's argument that the juvenile court
lacked jurisdiction due to its failure to comply with §
12-14-320(a) is without merit. Therefore, the juvenile
court's judgments terminating her parental rights to the
children are affirmed.
P.J., and Pittman, Moore, and Donaldson, JJ., concur.
May 13, 2014, is the date of the first
entry on the State Judicial Information System
case-action-summary sheets included in the record. We have
relied on date stamps and findings in the juvenile
court's various orders for some of the dates indicated in
The petitions also sought the entry of a
judgment terminating the father's parental rights. The
father was served by publication, his parental rights were
terminated, and he did not file an appeal.