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Ex parte B.W.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

January 26, 2018

Ex parte B.W.
v.
B.W. In re: A.L.E.

         PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS Mobile Juvenile Court, CS-16-900634

          DONALDSON, JUDGE.

         B.W. petitions this court for a writ of mandamus directing the Mobile Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") to enter an order dismissing an action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. For the reasons set forth below, we deny the petition.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On November 3, 2015, B.W. gave birth to A.E. ("the child"). B.W. and A.L.E. completed and signed a form for acknowledging A.L.E.'s paternity of the child. The Alabama Center for Health Statistics, which in Alabama performs the functions of an office of vital statistics, received the form on November 9, 2015. The form allows signatories to indicate whether genetic testing has been completed and, if so, whether the results are consistent with the claim of paternity. The form executed by B.W. and A.L.E., however, lacks any marks to indicate whether any genetic testing had been completed.

         On July 18, 2016, A.L.E. filed a complaint against B.W. in the juvenile court. A.L.E. sought to establish his paternity of the child, to obtain custody of the child, and to require B.W. to pay child support. B.W. filed an answer in which she alleged that A.L.E. was the "putative father" of the child. A.L.E. filed other motions relating to, among other things, discovery and pendente lite custody of the child.

         On October 23, 2017, B.W. filed a motion to dismiss the action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. In the motion, B.W. argued that A.L.E.'s paternity of the child had already been established at the time the complaint was filed based on the form for acknowledging paternity that had been signed by both parties and that, therefore, the juvenile court lacked original subject-matter jurisdiction of the paternity action.

         On November 17, 2017, the juvenile court entered an order indicating that it had conducted a hearing. In the order, the juvenile court denied B.W.'s motion to dismiss and levied a sanction against B.W. in the amount of $1, 734.30 for B.W.'s failure to answer discovery. The juvenile court set the matter for trial on April 17, 2018.

         On December 5, 2017, B.W. filed the present petition for a writ of mandamus and a motion to stay the proceedings until this court's decision on her petition.[1] Because B.W. had not sought a stay in the juvenile court, this court denied the motion to stay, citing Rule 8(b), Ala. R. App. P. On December 14, 2017, B.W. filed a motion to stay in the juvenile court. On December 20, 2017, B.W. filed a renewed motion to stay in this court, asserting that the juvenile court had orally denied her December 14, 2017, motion to stay but had also stated that it would not enforce any orders. On December 22, 2017, A.L.E. filed an answer in opposition to the petition for a writ of mandamus.

         Discussion

         B.W. contends that the form for the acknowledgment of paternity executed by B.W. and A.L.E. conclusively established the paternity of the child, thus precluding the juvenile court from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction over this paternity action. "'Subject-matter jurisdiction concerns a court's power to decide certain types of cases.'" Bates v. Stewart, 99 So.3d 837, 850 (Ala. 2012) (quoting Ex parte Seymour, 946 So.2d 536, 538 (Ala. 2006)). Section 12-15-115(a), Ala. Code 1975, provides, in relevant part:

"A juvenile court shall also exercise original jurisdiction of the following civil proceedings:
"(6) Proceedings to establish parentage of a child pursuant to the Alabama Uniform Parentage Act, Chapter 17 of Title 26.
"(7) Proceedings to establish, modify, or enforce support, visitation, or custody when a juvenile court previously has ...

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