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J.A.K. v. R.B.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

May 12, 2017

J.A.K.
v.
R.B. and A.B.

          Appeal from Talladega Juvenile Court (JU-12-100195.06)

          PER CURIAM

         In April 2016, J.M. ("the mother") filed in the Talladega Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") a petition seeking modification of a 2015 custody judgment that had awarded custody of R.K. ("the child") to R.B. and A.B. ("the custodians"). Both the mother and J.A.K. ("the father") had been awarded visitation with the child under the 2015 custody judgment. The juvenile court held a trial on the mother's petition on June 14, 2016. The mother appeared at the trial with counsel; the father and the custodians, however, appeared at trial pro se. On July 7, 2016, the juvenile court entered a judgment awarding the father custody of the child.

         The mother and the custodians filed postjudgment motions, the mother on July 14, 2016, and the custodians on July 15, 2016 ("the postjudgment motions"). The juvenile court held a hearing on the postjudgment motions on July 28, 2016, 14 days after the mother's postjudgment motion was filed and the final day on which to rule on her motion. See Rule 1(B)(1), Ala. R. Juv. P. (providing that a postjudgment motion is denied by operation of law if the juvenile court does not render an order on the motion within 14 days of its filing or within the period of any extension of that time); see also Rule 59.1, Ala. R. Civ. P. (governing the automatic denial of postjudgment motions by operation of law in civil actions). At the July 28, 2016, hearing, the juvenile-court judge recognized that he had to rule on the mother's motion on that day and on the custodians' motion by the following day, July 29, 2016. The transcript of the hearing reflects that the juvenile-court judge stated his intention to enter an order under Rule 1(B)(1) extending for an additional 14 days his time to rule on the postjudgment motions. The parties made no objection to the juvenile-court judge's stated intention, and the juvenile court rendered an order on July 28, 2016, extending the time for ruling on the postjudgment motions for an additional 14 days ("the extension order"). The extension order, however, was not entered into the State Judicial Information System by the juvenile-court clerk until August 1, 2016.

         On August 8, 2016, before the expiration of the additional 14-day period, the juvenile court entered an order granting the postjudgment motions. The August 8, 2016, order set aside the July 7, 2016, judgment awarding custody to the father. That order also reinstated the 2015 judgment awarding custody of the child to the custodians and ordered that the provisions of that judgment would remain in effect pending a trial on the matter. On August 15, 2016, the juvenile court set the matter for a new trial to be held on August 30, 2016.

          On August 30, 2016, the father, then represented by counsel, filed what he styled as a response to the postjudgment motions. The substance of the motion, however, challenged the juvenile court's extension order and the resulting August 8, 2016, order. See, e.g., Ex parte Alfa Mut. Gen. Ins. Co., 684 So.2d 1281, 1282 (Ala. 1996) (quoting Union Springs Tel. Co. v. Green, 285 Ala. 114, 117, 229 So.2d 503, 505 (1969)) ("The 'character of a [motion] is determined and interpreted from its essential substance, and not from its descriptive name or title.'"); Ex parte Lang, 500 So.2d 3, 4 (Ala. 1986) (construing a motion based on its substance and stating that "[i]t is clear that under our Rules of Civil Procedure the nomenclature of a motion is not controlling"). The father contended that the juvenile court's jurisdiction to act on the postjudgment motions had expired before the entry of the extension order on August 1, 2016, and that, therefore, both the extension order and the August 8, 2016, order, having been entered after the expiration of the original 14-day period for ruling on the postjudgment motions, were void. See K.M.G. v. B.A., 73 So.3d 708, 712 (Ala. Civ. App. 2011) (explaining that if a juvenile court does not rule on a postjudgment motion within 14 days, the juvenile court loses jurisdiction over the motion). The father further posited that the July 7, 2016, judgment was still in effect. Although the father contends that his motion was a Rule 60(b)(4), Ala. R. Civ. P., motion alleging that the extension order and the August 8, 2016, order were void, see Jefferson Cty. Bd. of Health v. Birmingham Hide & Tallow Co., 38 So.3d 714, 717 (Ala. 2009) ("Rule 60(b)(4) permits a court to relieve a party from a final judgment if the judgment is void."), because the juvenile court's August 8, 2016, order granted a new trial, that order was an interlocutory order and not a final judgment to which a Rule 60(b)(4) motion could be directed.[1] See Hallman v. Marion Corp., 411 So.2d 130, 132 (Ala. 1982) ("Interlocutory orders ... are ... not brought within the restrictive provisions of Rule 60(b), Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides for relief from final judgments. Instead, such orders are left within the plenary power of the court that rendered them to afford relief from them as justice requires."). Thus, the father's motion was a motion seeking reconsideration of the juvenile court's August 8, 2016, interlocutory order.

         The juvenile court addressed the father's motion at the August 30, 2016, trial setting. After hearing arguments of counsel, the juvenile court stated on the record that it was denying the father's motion. The juvenile court then conducted a new trial on the mother's modification petition. On August 31, 2016, the juvenile court entered a judgment denying the father's motion and the mother's petition for modification.

         The father timely appealed. On appeal, he argues that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to extend the time for ruling on the postjudgment motions because the extension order was not entered until after the expiration of the original 14-day period for ruling on those motions. Thus, he contends, the extension order, the August 8, 2016, order, and the August 31, 2016, judgment are void.

         As noted above, the juvenile court stated on the record at the July 28, 2016, hearing its intention to extend the time to rule on the postjudgment motions under Rule 1(B)(1). To better assist us in addressing the father's arguments, we will set out both Rule 1(A) and Rule 1(B) in their entirety.

"(A) These Rules shall be known as the Alabama Rules of Juvenile Procedure and shall govern the procedure for all matters in the juvenile court. If no procedure is specifically provided in these Rules or by statute, the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure shall be applicable to those matters that are considered civil in nature and the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure shall be applicable to those matters that are considered criminal in nature. Except as otherwise provided by constitutional provision, statute, these Rules, or other rules adopted by the Supreme Court of Alabama, the Alabama Rules of Evidence shall apply in all proceedings in the juvenile courts. For all matters in the juvenile courts, the phrase 'entry of order or judgment' shall have the same meaning as prescribed in Rule 58(c) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure.
"(B) Procedure shall be uniform in all juvenile courts, whether at the circuit court or the district court level or in the circuit court by trial de novo. In all juvenile courts, if an answer or other pleading is filed by a party pursuant to Rule 12, Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, the answer or other pleading shall be filed within the 14-day period provided in Rule 12(dc), Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, regardless of whether the juvenile courts are circuit courts or district courts. All postjudgment motions, whether provided for by the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure or the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, must be filed within 14 days after entry of order or judgment and shall not remain pending for more than 14 days, unless, within that time, the period during which a postjudgment motion may remain pending is extended:
"(1) By written order of the juvenile court on its own motion, or upon motion of a party for good cause shown, for not more than 14 additional days; or
"(2) Upon the express written consent of all the parties, which consent shall ...

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