Ex parte J.M.
J.M. and B.M. In re: T.M. and E.M.
Juvenile Court, JU-17-196.01 and JU-17-197.01
PETITIONS FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS
THOMPSON, PRESIDING JUDGE.
November 20, 2017, T.M. and E.M. ("the paternal
grandparents") filed in the Geneva Juvenile Court
("the juvenile court") petitions seeking to have
their minor grandchildren, J.W.M. and N.M., declared
dependent, to be awarded custody of the children, and to
terminate the parental rights of J.M. ("the
mother") and B.M. ("the father") to the
children. In their petitions, the paternal grandparents
alleged that they have had physical custody of the children
since October 4, 2014.
("the maternal grandmother"), a Florida resident,
filed a December 4, 2017, letter in the juvenile court in
which she alleged, among other things, that she was the
children's adoptive mother. In support of her allegation
that she had adopted the children, the maternal grandmother
attached to her December 4, 2017, letter an October 27, 2017,
adoption judgment of the Polk County, Florida, Circuit Court
("the Florida court").
mother filed in the juvenile court a letter answering the
petitions and an affidavit of substantial hardship. The
materials before us indicate that the juvenile-court clerk
returned the affidavit of substantial hardship to the mother
because it was not properly notarized. The father did not
respond to the paternal grandparents' petitions.
juvenile court conducted an ore tenus hearing on December 20,
2017. Also on December 20, 2017, the juvenile court entered
orders finding the children to be dependent, awarding
pendente lite custody of the children to the paternal
grandparents, and scheduling both a review hearing and a
"dispositional" hearing for dates in 2018. In those
December 20, 2017, orders, the juvenile court found that the
children had been living with the paternal grandfather since
2014 and had been residents of Alabama since 2015 and,
therefore, that the children were subject to the jurisdiction
of the juvenile court. The mother filed a notice of appeal as
to both actions on January 2, 2018. Because the orders of the
juvenile court are not final orders that would support an
appeal, we have elected to treat the mother's appeal as
petitions for a writ of mandamus. Ex parte T.C., 96
So.3d 123, 129 (Ala. 2012); Ex parte B.N., 203 So.3d
1234, 1240 (Ala. Civ. App. 2016).
Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
("UCCJEA"), § 30-3B-101 et seq., Ala. Code
1975, governs actions addressing issues of child custody,
including dependency actions and actions seeking to terminate
parental rights. § 30-3B-102(4), Ala. Code 1975;
R.L. v. J.E.R., 69 So.3d 898, 901 (Ala. Civ. App.
2011); R.W. v. G.W., 2 So.3d 869, 871 (Ala. Civ.
App. 2008). To properly exercise jurisdiction over the
paternal grandparents' petitions, the juvenile court was
required to comply with the jurisdictional requirements of
the UCCJEA. R.S. v. B.C., [Ms. 2160462, Sept. 8,
2017] __So. 3d__, __(Ala. Civ. App. 2017).
materials before us indicate that, in 2014, the maternal
grandmother, a resident of Florida, asked the paternal
grandparents to take custody of the children. The paternal
grandfather testified that the paternal grandparents obtained
a temporary custody order from a court in South Carolina,
where they lived in 2014. In 2015, before a final order could
be entered in South Carolina, the paternal grandparents and
the children moved to Alabama. Also in 2015, the maternal
grandmother initiated her adoption action in Florida that
resulted in the 2017 adoption judgment issued by the Florida
end of the December 20, 2017, hearing, the juvenile court
asked the parties to submit to it the files from the South
Carolina court and from the Florida court. The juvenile court
stated that it was exercising emergency jurisdiction over the
children, and it afforded the parties 30 days to present to
it the evidence concerning the other actions pertaining to
the UCCJEA, a court of this state may exercise emergency
jurisdiction over an action addressing child custody if the
child is present in this state and the facts warrant the
exercise of that emergency jurisdiction. § 30-3B-204(a),
Ala. Code 1975. This court has explained:
"An Alabama circuit or juvenile court may not make any
custody determination--neither an initial custody
determination nor a determination as to modification of
custody--regarding a child unless that court has jurisdiction
to make an initial custody determination under the UCCJEA,
which jurisdiction typically turns on whether Alabama is the
home state of the child. See Ala. Code 1975, §
30-3B-201 and -203 (providing when a court of this state may
make an initial custody determination or modify the custody
determination of a court of another state). However, in
situations in which a child-custody proceeding is pending in
another state or a previous child-custody determination
exists, an Alabama court may exercise temporary emergency
jurisdiction under § 30-3B-204 when a child is present
in this state and '[the child has been abandoned or] it
is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the
child ... is subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or
abuse.' § 30-3B-204(a). The temporary emergency
jurisdiction that an Alabama court may exercise pursuant to
§ 30-3B-204 is 'extremely limited,' see
M.B.L. [v. G.G.L.], 1 So.3d [1048, ] 1051 [(Ala. Civ.
App. (2008)], and an Alabama court must comply with the
manner of exercising that jurisdiction set out in that
section. LaRose v. LaRose, 71 So.3d 651, 657 (Ala.
Civ. App. 2011)."
J.D. v. Lauderdale Cty. Dep't of Human Res., 121
So.3d 381, 384-85 (Ala. Civ. App. 2013) (bracketed language
the jurisdiction exercised by the juvenile court in these
actions was limited. "A juvenile court with only temporary
emergency jurisdiction cannot adjudicate the dependency of a
child unless and until it first complies with §
30-3B-204 ...." G.S. v. R.L., [Ms. 2160643,
Feb. 23, 2018] __So. 3d__, __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2018). In
G.S. v. R.L., supra, this court held that judgments
purporting to find the children at issue in that case
dependent and making a custody award based on that finding
were void, and this court dismissed the appeal with
instructions for the juvenile court in that case to comply
with the requirements of § 30-3B-204. See also J.D.
v. Lauderdale Cty. Dep't of Human Res., 121 So.3d at
385 ("[A] juvenile court exercising temporary emergency
jurisdiction under § 30-3B-204 does not have
jurisdiction to adjudicate dependency and award custody by
virtue of the limited jurisdiction provided to it.");
M.W. v. C.W., 60 So.3d 301, 305 (Ala. Civ. App.
emergency jurisdiction did not authorize the juvenile court
to conduct the ... dependency proceeding." S.C. v.
J.T.C., 47 So.3d 1253, 1257 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010). In
these cases, the juvenile court made dependency
determinations, which it was without jurisdiction to do in
exercising emergency jurisdiction over the children.