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K.M.D. v. T.N.B.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

January 13, 2017

K.M.D.
v.
T.N.B.

         Appeal from Montgomery Juvenile Court (JU-13-758.05)

          MOORE, Judge.

         K.M.D. ("the adoptive mother") appeals from an order entered by the Montgomery Juvenile court ("the juvenile court") setting aside an award of attorney's fees in an adoption case. We reverse the juvenile court's order.

         Procedural History

         On January 22, 2015, the adoptive mother filed in the Montgomery Probate Court a petition to adopt T.B. ("the child"). On February 10, 2015, the probate court transferred the adoption proceeding to the juvenile court. See Ala. Code 1975, § 26-10A-21. T.N.B. ("the father") filed a contest to the adoption on April 30, 2015.

         On April 8, 2016, the adoptive mother filed a "Motion for Award of Fees and Expenses, " requesting that the juvenile court require the father to pay her "legal costs, " pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, § 26-10A-24(i). On April 29, 2016, the adoptive mother personally served the father with the motion and notice that the juvenile court would hear the motion on May 13, 2016. On May 12, 2016, the adoptive mother filed a "Final Disclosure of Disbursements, " designating the fees and expenses for which she sought reimbursement, including her attorney's fees.

         On May 13, 2016, following a hearing at which the father did not appear, the juvenile court entered a judgment denying the father's adoption contest and approving the adoptive mother's "Final Disclosure of Disbursements." The juvenile court entered an order granting the adoptive mother's petition to adopt the child on May 16, 2016. (C. 339). That same day, the attorney for the adoptive mother sent a letter to the juvenile court arguing that the term "legal costs" in § 26-10A-24(i) included attorney's fees and requesting that the juvenile court order the father to pay the adoptive mother's attorney's fees. On May 17, 2016, the juvenile court entered an order granting the adoptive mother's "Motion for [Award of] Fees and Expenses." The next day, the juvenile court ordered the father to pay $23, 450.00 in attorney's fees to the adoptive mother.

         On June 28, 2016, the father filed a letter with the juvenile court requesting that the juvenile court "set aside" the order requiring him to pay the adoptive mother's attorney's fees due to his poverty. The juvenile court entered an order on June 29, 2016, setting aside the order requiring the father to pay the adoptive mother's attorney's fees. On June 30, 2016, the adoptive mother filed a motion requesting that the juvenile court vacate its June 29, 2016, order. On July 8, 2016, the juvenile court entered an order denying the adoptive mother's motion. In its July 8, 2016, order, the juvenile court stated that the father had not had notice or an opportunity to be heard with regard to the adoptive mother's request for attorney's fees, and, therefore, the juvenile court concluded, the award of attorney's fees was void. The juvenile court also found that "legal costs" under § 26-10A-24(i) did not include attorney's fees. The adoptive mother timely filed her notice of appeal to this court on July 8, 2016.

         Discussion

         Once an adoption case is transferred to the juvenile court, the Alabama Rules of Juvenile Procedure govern. See State Dep't of Human Res. v. Smith, 567 So.2d 333, 334 (Ala. Civ. App. 1990). Rule 1(B), Ala. R. Juv. P., provides, in pertinent part, that "[a]ll postjudgment motions ... must be filed within 14 days after entry of order or judgment." However, Rule 1(B) does not apply to motions filed under Rule 60(b), Ala. R. Civ. P., which are considered collateral attacks on a final judgment of a juvenile court. See M.E.W. v. J.W., 142 So.3d 1168, 1172 (Ala. Civ. App. 2013).

         In this case, the juvenile court entered its final judgment awarding the adoptive mother attorney's fees on May 17, 2016. The father filed his letter, which the juvenile court treated as a motion to set aside the award of attorney's fees, on June 28, 2016, more than 14 days after entry of the final judgment. Thus, the juvenile court had no jurisdiction to consider that motion unless it could be characterized as a Rule 60(b) motion.

         Rule 60(b) provides, in pertinent part:

"On motion and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party or a party's legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence which by due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b)[, Ala. R. Civ. P.]; (3) fraud (whether heretofore denominated intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party; (4) the judgment is void; (5) the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged, or a prior judgment upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that the judgment should have prospective application; or (6) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment."

         In his letter, the father requested that the juvenile court vacate the May 17, 2016, judgment because he could not afford to pay the attorney's fees. The letter did not set out any of the ...


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