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Waldrop v. Evans

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

May 1, 2015

W.G. Waldrop
v.
Steve Evans

          Appeal from Walker Circuit Court. (CV-01-578).

         For Appellant: Phillip A. Laird and Russell B. Robertson of Laird & Robertson, P.C., Jasper; and Richard E. Fikes of Jackson Fikes Hood & Brakefield, Jasper.

         For Appellee: Charles C. Tatum, Jr., Jasper.

          OPINION

Page 356

          PITTMAN, Judge.

         W.G. Waldrop appeals from a ruling entered by the Walker Circuit Court on a postjudgment motion filed by Steve Evans, pursuant to Rule 59, Ala. R. Civ. P. We dismiss the appeal as having been taken from a nonfinal judgment.

         In 1999, Evans leased from Waldrop a piece of commercial real property located in Curry. The lease term was five years, commencing on April 1, 1999, and ending on March 1, 2004. Evans stopped paying rent in April 2000. Accordingly, in August 2001, Waldrop sued Evans, alleging a breach of the lease agreement.

         In November 2012, the trial court held a bench trial. Evans did not dispute at trial that he had ceased paying rent before the lease term had expired. He did, however, claim that Waldrop had unreasonably withheld his consent to a sublease of the property.

Page 357

On March 3, 2014, more than a year after the parties had submitted posttrial briefs, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of Waldrop. The judgment awarded Waldrop damages for unpaid rent, as well as prejudgment interest and costs.

         Pursuant to Rule 59, Ala. R. Civ. P., Evans timely filed a postjudgment motion. In that motion, Evans asked the trial court " for a new trial or to alter, amend and/or vacate" the judgment entered in favor of Waldrop and asked the trial-court judge to recuse himself from further proceedings and to refer the action to the presiding circuit-court judge for reassignment to a new circuit-court judge. In support of his motion, Evans asserted that, before the trial court had entered the judgment in favor of Waldrop after the bench trial, Waldrop had filed with the Judicial Inquiry Commission (" JIC" ) a complaint against the trial-court judge for allegedly violating Canon 3.A.(5) of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics, which requires judges to " dispose promptly of the business of the court." Evans alleged further that, " almost immediately following the filing of the JIC Complaint, [the trial court] entered the Order favorable to [Waldrop]." Evans asserted that the timing of the JIC complaint and the entry of the judgment in favor of Waldrop " create[d] the appearance that [the trial-court judge] might [have] rushed to enter the Order at issue to avoid the appearance of unfairness to [Waldrop]."

         In April 2014, the trial court entered an order ruling on Evans's postjudgment motion. Although the trial court stated in its order that the judgment in favor of Waldrop " was not in any way influenced by the ... JIC Complaint," in order to avoid the appearance of unfairness and lack of impartiality, the trial court vacated the judgment and the trial-court judge recused himself from further proceedings and referred the action to the presiding circuit-court judge for reassignment. The trial court, however, specifically declined to grant or deny Evans's request for a new trial, deferring a decision on that matter to the circuit-court judge to whom the case would be assigned.

         In May 2014, the action was assigned to a new circuit-court judge. The trial court never entered an order stating whether a new trial would or would not take place. In June 2014, Waldrop appealed to our supreme court, which transferred the appeal to this court, pursuant to § 12-2-7(6), Ala. Code 1975.

         In response to Waldrop's appeal, Evans argues that the trial court's order vacating the judgment that had been entered in favor of Waldrop is not a final judgment. Specifically, he asserts that the order did not adjudicate all the rights of the parties or all matters in controversy because it contemplated further proceedings after reassignment to a new circuit-court judge. Thus, he argues, this court does not have jurisdiction to consider the appeal. See Ex parte Wharfhouse ...


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