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Ex parte Edmondson

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

May 5, 2017

Ex parte Grady R. Edmondson
Karen S. Edmondson In re: Grady R. Edmondson

         Mobile Circuit Court, DR-15-500106


          THOMAS, Judge.

         Grady R. Edmondson ("the husband") has filed a petition for the writ of mandamus directing the Mobile Circuit Court ("the trial court") set aside its March 8, 2017, order staying the divorce action involving the husband and Karen S. Edmondson ("the wife"). The wife has answered the husband's petition and joins in his request that the trial court be ordered to set aside the March 8, 2017, order. The facts underlying the issuance of the March 8, 2017, order are taken from the husband's petition, the wife's answer to that petition, and the materials appended to the husband's petition.

         On the first day of the divorce trial, the husband was called as a witness. Counsel for the wife asked the husband whether he had had sexual relations with a woman not his wife more than 365 days before the date of trial. The husband's counsel objected, and the husband asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The trial court stopped the trial, imposed a temporary stay on the proceedings, and asked the parties to file letter briefs explaining the parties' positions regarding the husband's right to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination when questioned regarding any allegedly adulterous relationship.

         After considering the parties' letter briefs, the trial court entered an order staying the divorce action on March 8, 2017. The order explains that the trial court had

"determine[d] from the subject of the question [posed to the husband at trial] that the current divorce proceeding and any potential criminal proceedings would be parallel proceedings, and the [husband's] Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination in any such criminal proceedings would be threatened if the divorce proceeding is not stayed in accordance with the provisions and standards set forth in [Ex parte] Rawls, 953 So.2d 374 (2006). Therefore, the trial of the divorce is stayed pending resolution of any criminal charges against [the husband] and said charges against [the husband], if any, are adjudicated at the trial level."

         In it order, the trial court set the case for a status hearing on September 26, 2017, "for the parties to provide the [trial] court with an update on any potential criminal charges against [the husband] at that time."

         The husband timely filed this petition for the writ of mandamus. He seeks a writ requiring the trial court to lift the stay it imposed on the parties' divorce action. He asserts, and the wife agrees, that neither party requested or desires a stay of the divorce action.

"'A writ of mandamus is an extraordinary remedy that is available when a trial court has exceeded its discretion. Ex parte Fidelity Bank, 893 So.2d 1116, 1119 (Ala. 2004). A writ of mandamus is "appropriate when the petitioner can show (1) a clear legal right to the order sought; (2) an imperative duty upon the respondent to perform, accompanied by a refusal to do so; (3) the lack of another adequate remedy; and (4) the properly invoked jurisdiction of the court." Ex parte BOC Group, Inc., 823 So.2d 1270, 1272 (Ala. 2001).'
"Ex parte Antonucci, 917 So.2d 825, 830 (Ala. 2005). 'Mandamus will be granted only where an abuse of discretion is shown.' Ex parte McMahan, 507 So.2d 492, 493 (Ala. 1987)."

Ex parte Rawls, 953 So.2d 374, 377 (Ala. 2006).

         A trial court has the inherent power to issue a stay of proceedings pending before it. Landis v. North American Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936) (explaining that "the power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants"). Our supreme court set out some of the considerations applicable to the exercise of the power to stay in Ex parte American Family Care, Inc., 91 So.3d 682, 683 (Ala. 2012):

"In considering a stay, courts must always be mindful of '[t]he interest of the plaintiff in proceeding expeditiously with the civil litigation ... and the potential prejudice to the plaintiff of a delay in the progress of that litigation.' Ex parte Ebbers, 871 So.2d 776, 789 (Ala. 2003). ...
"It is well established that '[a] stay must not be "immoderate."' Ortega Trujillo v. Conover & Co. Commc'ns, Inc., 221 F.3d 1262, 1264 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting CTI-Container Leasing Corp. v. Uiterwyk Corp., 685 F.2d 1284, 1288 (11th Cir. 1982)). 'In considering whether a stay is "immoderate, " [appellate courts] examine both the scope of the stay (including its potential ...

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