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Secretary of Alabama Law Enforcement Agency v. Ellis

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

March 22, 2019

Secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency
v.
Randol R. Ellis

          Appeal from Wilcox Circuit Court (CV-13-900085)

          MOORE, JUDGE.

         The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency ("ALEA"), by and through its secretary, currently Hal Taylor, appeals from a judgment of the Wilcox Circuit Court ("the circuit court") directing the Alabama Department of Public Safety ("DPS"), which is, by statute, now a component of ALEA (see Ala. Code 1975, § 41-27-1), to reinstate the "regular" Class D driver's license[1] and the commercial driver's license ("CDL") of Randol R. Ellis. We dismiss the appeal based on the circuit court's lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

         Procedural History

         On November 4, 2013, Ellis filed a notice of appeal to the circuit court from a decision of DPS that upheld the suspension of Ellis's driver's license and his CDL following his September 28, 2013, arrest for driving under the influence. (C. 6). On that same date, Ellis filed a motion requesting a stay of any action by DPS to enforce the suspension. The circuit court entered an order on November 7, 2013, staying the suspension of Ellis's driver's license and his CDL. On January 12, 2014, the director of DPS filed an answer to Ellis's notice of appeal and a motion to lift the stay of the suspension of Ellis's driver's license and his CDL; in that filing, the director of DPS noted, among other things, that Ellis's driver's license and his CDL had been suspended, that the actions taken by DPS had been mandatory, that Ellis's appeal failed to state grounds upon which the circuit court could assume jurisdiction of the appeal or for which relief could be granted, and he sought dismissal of Ellis's appeal.

         Beginning April 14, 2014, Ellis filed a number of motions to continue, asserting that the outcome of his driving-under-the-influence case would have a direct bearing on the civil action and, later, that he had entered a pretrial-diversion program in the driving-under-the-influence case and that he had not yet completed that program. On October 29, 2015, Ellis filed a motion to continue, requesting that the circuit court allow for the disposition of the driving-under-the-influence case to be received by DPS and for negotiations between the parties to take place in the present case.

         On January 24, 2018, the circuit court entered an order dismissing the case based on Ellis's failure to appear at a scheduled court date. The circuit court entered an order on February 21, 2018, setting aside its order dismissing the case, reinstating the case, and setting the case for a trial on April 3, 2018. Ellis filed a notice with the circuit court on April 2, 2018, indicating that he had "successfully completed all requirements" for the driving-under-the-influence case, that "[a]ll fees ha[d] been paid in full," and that his "[driver's] license ha[d] been reinstated." On that same date, the circuit court entered an order granting what it referred to as Ellis's motion to dismiss. On May 15, 2018, Ellis filed a motion to reinstate his CDL; the circuit court entered an order granting that motion on May 15, 2018.

         On June 14, 2018, ALEA, through its secretary, filed a postjudgment motion, asserting, among other things, that, on September 28, 2013, Ellis had been the driver of a motor vehicle that had been involved in a traffic accident; that Ellis had subsequently been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in violation of § 32-5A-191, Ala. Code 1975; that Ellis had submitted to a chemical breath analysis that showed he had a blood-alcohol content of .08% or more; that ALEA had received a sworn report from the arresting law-enforcement officer that Ellis had been in actual physical control of a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol content of .08% or more; that, upon receipt of that report, ALEA was required to suspend Ellis's "Class D" driver's licence for a period of 90 days and his CDL for life; that Ellis had requested an administrative review of the intended suspension of both his driver's license and his CDL, pursuant to § 32-5A-306, Ala. Code 1975; and that ALEA had determined that all statutory requirements had been met to sustain and uphold the suspension. ALEA asserted that, pursuant to §§ 32-6-49.3(7), 32-6-49.11(a), 32-6-49.11(b), 32-6-49.23, and 32-5A-304(c), Ala. Code 1975, Ellis was prohibited from being eligible to enter a pretrial-diversion program relative to his CDL and that, because Ellis had had a previous "conviction" for driving under the influence or "refusal, "[2] Ellis's CDL was due to remain suspended. The circuit court set ALEA's motion for a hearing on August 3, 2018. No transcript of that hearing appears in the record, and the circuit court failed to enter an order on ALEA's postjudgment motion. Accordingly, ALEA's postjudgment motion was denied by operation of law on September 12, 2018. See Rule 59.1, Ala. Civ. App. P. ALEA filed its notice of appeal to this court on September 26, 2018.

         Analysis

         ALEA first argues on appeal that the circuit court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to consider Ellis's request for judicial review. Although ALEA failed to make this argument before the circuit court at any time,

"[i]t is well settled that 'subject-matter jurisdiction may not be waived; a court's lack of subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time by any party and may even be raised by a court ex mero motu.' C.J.L. v. M.W.B., 868 So.2d 451, 453 (Ala. Civ. App. 2003); see, e.g., Ex parte Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 816 So.2d 469, 472 (Ala. 2001) ('We are obliged to recognize an absence of subject-matter jurisdiction obvious from a record, petition, or exhibits to a petition before us.'). A judgment entered by a court that lacks subject-matter jurisdiction is void. See C.J.L., 868 So.2d at 454; see also J.B. v. A.B., 888 So.2d 528 (Ala. Civ. App. 2004)."

S.B.U. v. D.G.B., 913 So.2d 452, 455 (Ala. Civ. App. 2005).

         Citing §§ 32-5A-306 and 32-5A-307, Ala. Code 1975, of the Alabama Rules of the Road Act ("the Act"), § 32-5A-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, ALEA asserts that the circuit court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to consider Ellis's appeal from DPS's decision upholding the suspension of Ellis's driver's license or his CDL. Section 32-5A-306 provides, in pertinent part:

"(a) Any person who has received a notice of suspension or a notice of intended suspension under this article may request an administrative review. The request may be accompanied by a sworn statement or statements and any other relevant evidence which the person wants the director [of DPS], or his or her agent, to consider in reviewing the ...

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