G.S. and S.S.
from Lowndes Juvenile Court (JU-16-18)
("the mother") appeals from a judgment of the
Lowndes Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court")
insofar as that judgment purported to award G.S. and S.S.
("the paternal grandparents") visitation with the
mother's minor child ("the child"). We dismiss
the appeal with instructions to the juvenile court to vacate
the portion of its judgment purporting to award the paternal
sole issue raised on appeal is whether, given the procedural
posture of this particular case, the juvenile court had
subject-matter jurisdiction to award the paternal
grandparents visitation. After the child's father died,
the paternal grandparents, in April 2016, filed a complaint
alleging that the child was dependent and seeking custody of
the child. Their complaint did not seek an award of
visitation as an alternative remedy in the event the juvenile
court determined that the child was not dependent. Along with
their complaint, the paternal grandparents filed a motion
seeking an ex parte custody and pickup order, which the
juvenile court granted. Thereafter, the juvenile court held a
hearing, which the mother and the paternal grandparents
attended. Following the hearing, the juvenile court entered
an order finding that the child was dependent, awarding the
paternal grandparents pendente lite custody, and awarding the
mother pendente lite visitation. The juvenile court
subsequently held a final hearing and, thereafter, entered a
judgment finding that the child was not dependent, restoring
the child to the mother's custody, and dismissing the
paternal grandparents' dependency action. However,
despite dismissing the dependency action, the judgment
purported to award the paternal grandparents visitation.
Regarding the juvenile court's jurisdiction to make that
purported award, the judgment stated:
"There can be no dispute that the testimony and evidence
suggest that both the Paternal Grandparents ... and the ...
Mother ... love and care deeply for the minor child .... It
also clear to the Court that [the child] needs both his
Paternal Grandparents and his Mother to play an active role
in his life. This was supported by the testimony of Dr. Karen
Hollinger, who stated as much. The Court can only hope that
the parties can put aside the acrimony and discord of the
past to focus on a future in which [the child's] best
interests are placed above their mutual feelings regarding
each other. To that end, the Court finds it necessary to
award visitation to the paternal grandparents pursuant to the
provisions of § 30-3-4.2 of the Code of Alabama 1975.
Despite a finding that the minor child is not dependent,
the Court asserts jurisdiction to award visitation pursuant
to the holding of the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals in
M.G.D. v. C.B. and J.L.B.[, 203 So.3d 855 (Ala. Civ. App.
2016)]. While the Paternal Grandparents did not expressly
request visitation in their petition, the Court is satisfied
that the issue was sufficiently raised through the visitation
discussions and agreements to confer jurisdiction upon this
court to enter a visitation award."
appeal, the mother argues that this case is distinguishable
from M.G.D. v. C.B., 203 So.3d 855 (Ala. Civ. App.
2016), and that the juvenile court erred in relying on that
case to support its conclusion that it had subject-matter
jurisdiction to award the paternal grandparents visitation.
In holding that the Shelby Juvenile Court had subject-matter
jurisdiction to award C.B. and J.L.B., the grandparents who
had filed the dependency petition in M.G.D.,
visitation, this court stated:
"[Section] 12-15-115(a)(10), Ala. Code 1975, gives
juvenile courts jurisdiction over '[p]roceedings to
establish grandparent visitation when filed as part of a
juvenile court case involving the same child.' In
D.E.C.C. v. K.N.R., 51 So.3d 1068 (Ala. Civ. App.
2010), this court acknowledged that 'a juvenile court
considering an allegation of dependency [has] jurisdiction
over a claim seeking grandparent visitation when that claim
[is] asserted as part of a dependency action.' 51 So.3d
at 1070 (citing K.R.D. v. E.D., 622 So.2d 398 (Ala.
Civ. App. 1993)). '[T]his court has held that the
juvenile court has jurisdiction to award grandparent
visitation where the child was before the juvenile court on
the grandparents' dependency/custody petition and the
grandparents had sought visitation in the event that the
juvenile court did not find the child
dependent.' J.D.R. v. M.M.E., 898 So.2d
783, 785 (Ala. Civ. App. 2004) (citing K.R.D. v.
E.D., supra) (emphasis added). Thus, our
statutes and caselaw allow a juvenile court to award
grandparent visitation even if the juvenile court finds that
a child is not dependent, and the determination that a child
is not dependent and the dismissal of a dependency petition
does not affect a claim requesting grandparent visitation.
'[A]bsent a specific claim for grandparent visitation,
' however, a juvenile court does not have jurisdiction to
consider such visitation, even in an action alleging
dependency. 51 So.3d at 1071.
"There is no dispute in the present case that the
juvenile court considered a verified allegation of dependency
and, thus, had before it a juvenile-court case involving the
children. The issue is whether a claim for grandparent
visitation had been sufficiently asserted as part of the case
so as to confer subject-matter jurisdiction on the juvenile
court under § 12-15-115(a)(10). Section 12-15-115(c),
Ala. Code 1975, provides that, with one exception not
applicable in this case, '[a]ll civil cases before the
juvenile court shall be governed by the laws relating thereto
and shall be initiated by filing a petition or complaint with
the clerk of the juvenile court.' 'Petition' and
'complaint, ' as those terms are used in §
12-15-115, are not defined.
"Although the petition alleging dependency did not
request grandparent visitation, it appears from other filings
in this case that the issue of grandparent visitation was
raised. Specifically, in the July 29 order, which was signed
by the grandparents and the mother, the juvenile court
awarded the grandparents specific visitation rights based on
an agreement of the parties. The visitation schedule filed as
an exhibit to that order also was initialed by all parties.
Moreover, the grandparents later filed a motion for
clarification regarding the July 29 order, in which they
specifically asserted that they had reached an agreement with
the mother to allow the grandparents visitation with the
children. Although the juvenile court set aside the July 29
order because it had been entered while the mother's
first appeal was still pending, the referenced filings
clearly indicate that grandparent visitation had been made a
part of this juvenile case. Indeed, after arguing in her
motion for a summary judgment that the children were not
dependent, the mother herself acknowledged that the
grandparents were seeking court-ordered visitation with the
children. The juvenile court recognized as much in its final
judgment, noting that 'the issue of grandparent
visitation was properly raised in this matter.' Based on
the various filings and admissions of record in this case, we
conclude that proceedings to establish grandparent visitation
were sufficiently commenced as part of a juvenile-court case
involving the children and that the juvenile court had
subject-matter jurisdiction to consider grandparent
visitation. The mother makes no other substantive arguments
regarding the award of grandparent visitation. Accordingly,
we affirm the juvenile court's judgment insofar as it
awarded grandparent visitation."
203 So.3d at 857-59 (footnote omitted).
the complaint filed by the paternal grandparents in the
present case, the dependency petition filed by C.B. and
J.L.B. in M.G.D. did not seek an award of visitation
as alternative relief in the event the Shelby Juvenile Court
determined that the children were not dependent. See
M.G.D., 203 So.3d at 858. However, that is the only
pertinent procedural fact in M.G.D. that is like the
pertinent procedural facts in the present case. In
M.G.D., the children were never removed from the
custody of M.G.D., their mother, and the Shelby Juvenile
Court never awarded C.B. and J.L.B. pendente lite custody,
see M.G.D., 203 So.3d at 856-57, whereas, in the
present case, the child was removed from the mother's
custody and placed in the paternal grandparents' custody
pendente lite. In M.G.D., while M.G.D.'s appeal
from an injunction restraining her from removing the children
from the Shelby Juvenile Court's jurisdiction was pending
in this court, the Shelby Juvenile Court entered an order
based on an agreement of the parties that awarded C.B. and
J.L.B. pendente lite visitation, id., whereas, in
the present case, no order awarding the paternal grandparents
pendente lite visitation was ever entered. In
M.G.D., although the Shelby Juvenile Court later
vacated the order awarding C.B. and J.L.B. pendente lite
visitation, M.G.D. subsequently filed a motion for a summary
judgment in which she stated that "'upon information
and belief, [C.B. and J.L.B.] are seeking only to have court
ordered visitation with the minor children.'"
M.G.D., 203 So.3d at 857. In the present case, the
mother never asserted that the paternal grandparents were
seeking visitation with the child. Moreover, the only
explicit discussions regarding visitation at the hearings in
the present case were discussions regarding the mother's
pendente lite visitation. The only statement in the record
that could be interpreted as implying that the paternal
grandparents might be awarded visitation if the juvenile
court determined that the child was not dependent was the
following statement made by the juvenile court during a
"Now, I do want there to be additional visitation with
[the mother]. I think the parties need to understand that
this is going to be, you know, something that we are going to
be dealing with from now on. And so the quicker we can come
to an understanding that everybody is going to have to work
together and communicate with one another for [the
child's] best interest, the better off we will be.
Because regardless of what the Court does, whether I
allow [the child] to stay with [the paternal grandparents]
and grant [them] custody of him, or I allow [the mother] to
have [the child] back, we are going to have to work with
one another on visitation and accommodating one another.
And I don't think, going under what we are doing right
now is adequate visitation."
(Emphasis added.) Unlike the procedural facts that we held
were sufficient to invoke the Shelby Juvenile Court's
subject-matter jurisdiction to award C.B. and J.L.B.
visitation pursuant to § 12-15-115(a)(10), Ala. Code
1975, in M.G.D., the statement of the juvenile court
quoted above was not sufficient to invoke its subject-matter
jurisdiction to award the paternal grandparents visitation
pursuant to § 12-15-115(a)(10) in the present case.
Thus, the juvenile court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction
to make that award, and, consequently, its judgment is void
insofar as it purported to make that award. See,
e.g., Ingram v. Alabama Peace Officers'
Standards & Training Comm'n, 148 So.3d 1089,
1093 (Ala. Civ. App. 2014) (holding that judgment was void
because the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction).
Because a void judgment will not support an appeal, we
dismiss the mother's appeal and direct the juvenile court
to vacate the portion of its judgment that purported to award
the paternal grandparents visitation with the child. See
Ingram, 148 So.3d at 1093-94 ("'[A] void
judgment will ...