Appeals from DeKalb Juvenile Court (JU-12-188.01 &
2009, L.R.B. ("the father") and J.C. ("the
mother") were divorced by the DeKalb Circuit Court.
According to the parties, the divorce judgment awarded
custody of the parties' two children to the father. In
April 2012, the mother filed in the DeKalb Juvenile Court
("the juvenile court") an emergency motion for
custody of the children; she also filed two form complaints,
which initiated a separate action for each child, seeking to
have the children declared dependent and in which she alleged
that the father had been arrested in Tennessee, had recently
been committed to and released from a mental-health-care
facility, had a history of mental-health issues and drug use,
and, at a recent visitation, had "attempted to
fight" the mother.
August 2012, the juvenile court rendered a judgment that was
entered in each action, incorporating the parties'
agreement respecting custody of the children. By agreement,
the children were placed in the custody of the mother, and
the father was awarded specific visitation. In 2015, the
mother instituted contempt actions against the father in the
juvenile court; the father counterclaimed, requesting a
modification of the 2012 judgment and that the mother be held
in contempt. The parties reached an agreement regarding the
2015 claims as well, and the juvenile court modified the 2012
judgment only insofar as it specified the location for the
exchange of the children for visitation.
September 2017, the father filed in the juvenile court a
motion pursuant to Rule 60(b)(4), Ala. R. Civ. P., requesting
that the juvenile court set aside the 2012 judgment as void.
The father argued in his motion that the juvenile court had
lacked jurisdiction to enter the 2012 judgment and that both
that judgment and the 2015 modification judgment were void.
He contended that the juvenile court had not determined that
the children were dependent and that, therefore, the juvenile
court had lacked jurisdiction to determine their custody.
juvenile court rendered a judgment that was entered in each
action, denying the father's motion and indicating that
it considered the father's motion to have come too late
and that the father had assented to the juvenile court's
jurisdiction by litigating the 2015 modification actions. The
father sought review of the denial of his Rule 60(b) motion
via a petitions for the writ of mandamus, which we have
treated as appeals. See M.M. v. K.J.Z., [Ms.
2160520, September 29, 2017] ___ So.3d ___, ___ (Ala. Civ.
App. 2017) (electing to treat petitions for the writ of
mandamus seeking review of the denial of Rule 60(b) motions
as appeals from the denial of those motions). This court
consolidated the appeals ex mero motu.
father's motion sought relief from the 2012 judgment
under Rule 60(b)(4) based on allegations that the juvenile
court had lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to enter the
2012 judgment. Motions seeking relief from a void judgment
may be brought at any time. Ex parte McCrory &
Williams, Inc., 155 So.3d 1018, 1020 (Ala. Civ. App.
2014). Thus, despite the juvenile court's conclusion that
the father's motion was filed too late, the father's
motion was timely filed. Furthermore, we note that
"'"[a] lack of subject-matter jurisdiction is
not subject to waiver by the parties, "'"
B.L.R. v. N.M.N., 69 So.3d 868, 869 (Ala. Civ. App.
2011) (quoting K.C. v. R.L.P., 67 So.3d 94, 95 (Ala.
Civ. App. 2011), quoting in turn Ex parte T.C., 63
So.3d 627, 630 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010)), so the father's
participation in the 2012 actions and the 2015 actions could
not imbue the juvenile court with subject-matter
"'The standard of review on appeal from an order
granting [or denying] relief under Rule 60(b)(4), Ala. R.
Civ. P. ("the judgment is void"), is not whether
the trial court has exceeded its discretion. When the
decision to grant or to deny relief turns on the validity of
the judgment, discretion has no field of operation.
Cassioppi v. Damico, 536 So.2d 938, 940 (Ala. 1988).
"If the judgment is void, it is to be set aside; if it
is valid, it must stand.... A judgment is void only if the
court which rendered it lacked jurisdiction of the
subject matter, or of the parties, or if it acted in a manner
inconsistent with due process." Seventh Wonder v.
Southbound Records, Inc., 364 So.2d 1173, 1174 (Ala.
1978) (emphasis added).'"
L.T. v. W.L., 159 So.3d 1289, 1291 (Ala. Civ. App.
2014) (quoting Ex parte Full Circle Distrib.,
L.L.C., 883 So.2d 638, 641 (Ala. 2003)).
juvenile court is a court of limited jurisdiction, having
"exclusive original jurisdiction of juvenile court
proceedings in which a child is alleged to have committed a
delinquent act, to be dependent, or to be in need of
supervision." Ala. Code 1975, § 12-15-114(a). The
mother's 2012 dependency complaint contained allegations
that, if proven, could have established that the children
were dependent. Thus, her complaint invoked the jurisdiction
of the juvenile court. See T.K. v. M.G., 82 So.3d 1,
4 (Ala. Civ. App. 2011) (explaining that a father's
allegations that the mother was using illegal drugs and was
not properly caring for the parties' children were
sufficient allegations upon which to base the juvenile
court's exercise of its dependency jurisdiction).
However, the juvenile court never took evidence regarding the
children's alleged dependency; instead, the parties
entered into a settlement agreement respecting the custody of
the children. The settlement agreement does not stipulate to
the children's dependency, and, as a result, the
settlement agreement merely resolves a custody dispute
between parents, over which the juvenile court lacked
jurisdiction. See § 12-15-114(a) ("A
dependency action shall not include a custody dispute between
parents."); S.J.S. v. H.M., 103 So.3d 823, 826
(Ala. Civ. App. 2012).
mother contends that, pursuant to Rule 8(d), Ala. R. Civ. P.,
the father's failure to file an answer to the dependency
complaint resulted in his admission of the facts giving rise
to the children's dependency. Thus, she argues, the
juvenile court had jurisdiction to enter its 2012 judgment
incorporating the parties' settlement agreement because
the children's dependency was admitted. The application
of Rule 8(d) does obviate the need for proof of an admitted
factual averment at trial or in a motion for a summary
judgment. See Howard v. Jordan, 390 So.2d 1053, 1054
n.1 (Ala. 1980); but see Edwards v. National
Speleological Soc'y, Inc., 502 So.2d 337, 339 (Ala.
1987) (indicating that because "[t]he filing of an
answer is not a prerequisite to the consideration of a motion
for summary judgment, " Rule 8(d) cannot always be used
to deem facts admitted when no answer has been filed).
However, the juvenile court did not try the 2012 actions or
enter a summary judgment in those actions. Instead, the
parties agreed to resolve their differences, which, based on
the language used in the settlement agreement, were based on
a custody dispute between them. We cannot agree that Rule 8(d) is
applicable in this situation, where the facts were not
required to be proven to the juvenile court before it entered
its 2012 judgment incorporating the parties' settlement
the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to enter the 2012
judgment, that judgment is void; the 2015 judgment purporting
to modify the 2012 judgment is also void. See
S.J.S., 103 So.3d at 826. The father's Rule 60(b)(4)
motion was not untimely and is due to be granted. The
judgment of the juvenile court is therefore reversed, and the
causes are remanded for the entry of a judgment consistent
with this opinion.
REVERSED AND REMANDED.