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M.D. v. Russell County Department of Human Resources

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

June 29, 2018

M.D.
v.
Russell County Department of Human Resources

          Appeal from Russell Juvenile Court (JU-14-136.01)

          DONALDSON, Judge.

         Consolidated actions retain their separate identities and require the entry of a separate judgment in each action. R.J.G. v. S.S.W., 42 So.3d 747, 752-53 (Ala. Civ. App. 2009). Under current Alabama law, however, a judgment entered in consolidated actions that does not dispose of all the claims in those actions will not support an appeal unless it is certified as final under Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. Hanner v. Metro Bank & Prot. Life Ins. Co., 952 So.2d 1056, 1061 (Ala. 2006). The judgment being appealed in this case was entered in a consolidated action, but the claims in the other consolidated actions remain pending; therefore, the judgment is not sufficiently final to support an appeal.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The Russell County Department of Human Resources ("DHR") took custody of C.R.D. ("the child") in June 2014 and initiated proceedings in the Russell Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") that involved M.D. ("the mother"). That case was designated as case no. JU-14-136.01 ("the .01 action"). On June 9, 2014, the juvenile court entered an order in the .01 action adjudicating the child to be dependent and transferring custody of the child to DHR.

         In July 2014, R.T. ("the father") filed a petition in the .01 action seeking to adjudicate his paternity of the child and seeking custody of the child. Also in July 2014, the child's maternal grandmother filed a separate petition for custody of the child, which was docketed in the juvenile court as case no. JU-14-136.02 ("the .02 action"). On July 24, 2014, the juvenile court dismissed the .02 action and allowed the maternal grandmother to intervene in the .01 action. That same day, the juvenile court entered an order adjudicating R.T. as the biological father of the child.

         On August 28, 2014, after a hearing, the juvenile court entered an order in the .01 action denying the mother's motion to reconsider its June 9, 2014, order of dependency, but it noted in its order that it would treat the mother's motion as a petition to modify custody.

         On November 5, 2014, the juvenile court entered an order in the .01 action that, among other things, continued the mother's, the father's, and the maternal grandmother's petitions "until the final resolution of the mother's pending criminal charges." That order also incorporated an agreement of the parties regarding medical care for the child. That order indicates that it was also entered in case no. JU-14-136.03 ("the .03 action") and case no. JU-14-136.04 ("the .04 action"). The record does not indicate the nature of the .03 action, and, although the record is not entirely clear, it appears that the .04 action was initiated with the maternal grandmother's filing of a dependency petition in September 2014.

         On October 23, 2015, the mother and the maternal grandmother filed a petition seeking custody of the child, which was docketed as case no. JU-14-136.06 ("the .06 action"). On October 29, 2015, the juvenile court entered an order consolidating the .06 action with case no. JU-14-136.05 ("the .05 action").[1]

         On February 2, 2016, the mother filed a handwritten request for a custody hearing, on which she designated that her request was applicable to the .01 action through the .06 action. On March 31, 2016, the father filed a "counterclaim for custody" in the .06 action, which he also filed in the .01 action on April 7, 2016.

         On April 1, 2016, the juvenile court entered an order in the .06 action consolidating that action with the .01 action, the .03 action, and the .04 action.

          The juvenile court held a trial on the mother's petition to modify custody on August 8, 2017. On August 26, 2017, after the trial, the juvenile court entered a judgment in the .01 action that, among other things, found that the child remained dependent, denied the mother's petition to modify custody, and denied the father's petition for custody. On September 6, 2017, the mother filed a notice of appeal to this court from the judgment entered in the .01 action. The mother has proceeded in this appeal without the assistance of counsel.

         Discussion

         The mother raises numerous arguments on appeal; however, before addressing those arguments, we must determine whether this court has jurisdiction to consider the mother's appeal because "jurisdictional matters are of such magnitude that we take notice of them at any time and do so ...


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