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A.B. v. T.M.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

May 3, 2019

A.B.
v.
T.M.

          Appeal from Houston Circuit Court (DR-17-214)

          THOMPSON, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         On May 12, 2014, the Houston County Department of Human Resources ("DHR"), on behalf of T.M. ("the mother"), filed a complaint in the Houston Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") seeking to domesticate a November 15, 2013, judgment of the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Maryland ("the Maryland court"). The Maryland court's judgment awarded the mother custody of the minor child born of her relationship with A.B. ("the father"), ordered the father to pay child support, and awarded the mother a $2, 598 judgment on the father's child-support arrearage. Also on May 12, 2014, DHR filed, on behalf of the mother, a petition seeking to have the father held in contempt for his failure to pay child support pursuant to the Maryland court's November 15, 2013, judgment.

         On February 3, 2015, the juvenile court entered an order domesticating the Maryland court's November 15, 2013, judgment. On February 4, 2015, the juvenile court entered an order finding the father in contempt for failure to pay child support, and it scheduled a hearing to determine the amount of the child-support arrearage. On December 8, 2015, the juvenile court entered a judgment on the contempt petition, determining that the father was $13, 423 in arrears in his child-support obligation and awarding the mother a judgment in that amount.

         The issue of the father's alleged contempt for failure to pay child support and the enforcement of that obligation continued to be litigated in the juvenile court after the entry of the December 8, 2015, judgment. On August 25, 2016, the juvenile court entered an order stating that the father had failed to appear at a scheduled show-cause hearing, and it ordered that a writ of arrest for the father be issued. The father filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in this court with regard to the August 25, 2016, order and another order that had been entered in April 2016. On September 29, 2016, this court dismissed the petition as untimely insofar as it pertained to the April 2016 order and denied the petition with regard to the August 25, 2016, order.

         On September 15, 2016, the father filed in the juvenile court a Rule 60(b), Ala. R. Civ. P., motion for relief from judgment. The father sought relief from the February 3, 2015, judgment domesticating the Maryland court's November 15, 2013, judgment and from the December 8, 2015, judgment on the contempt petition. The juvenile court scheduled a hearing on that motion for June 27, 2017.

         On June 27, 2017, the juvenile court entered a judgment in which it noted that the father had failed to appear at the scheduled hearing, and it denied the father's Rule 60(b) motion. We note that, in that judgment, the juvenile court also ordered that a writ of arrest be issued for the father based on information it received at the hearing concerning the father's continued failure to pay child support. The juvenile court did not certify that the record was adequate for an appeal to this court and did not certify that only questions of law are involved, and the father filed a notice of appeal to the Houston Circuit Court ("the trial court") on July 10, 2017. See M.C. v. L.J.H., 868 So.2d 465, 467 (Ala. Civ. App. 2003) (citing Rule 28(A)(1), Ala. R. Juv. P., and holding that, in the absence of a certification of the record as being adequate for an appeal to this court or of a certification that only questions of law are involved, the appeal of a denial of a Rule 60(b) motion filed in the juvenile court is to the circuit court); see also Terry v. Frisbee, 404 So.2d 345, 346 (Ala. Civ. App. 1981) ("[T]he denial of a [R]ule 60(b) motion by a district court is a final order or judgment, which, pursuant to § 12-12-71, [Ala. Code 1975, ] must on its face be appealed to the circuit court" unless the exceptions in § 12-12-71 apply). Given the posture of this case, the father properly appealed the denial of his Rule 60(b) motion to the trial court.

         The trial court designated the appeal to that court from the juvenile court's June 27, 2017, judgment as case number DR-17-214. In the trial court, on October 5, 2017, the father filed a document titled "sworn motion for judgment" that, in substance, elaborated on the arguments asserted in his September 15, 2016, Rule 60(b) motion.

         On September 21, 2018, the trial court entered a judgment in which it noted that its review of the matter was confined to determining whether the juvenile court had erred in denying the father's Rule 60(b) motion. This court has explained:

"The appeal to the circuit court was from the district court's denial of the Rule 60(b) motion. Such an appeal is for trial de novo. Walker v. Eubanks, 424 So.2d 631 (Ala. Civ. App. 1982). In other words, the de novo appeal is as if the district court's judgment denying the Rule 60(b) motion had never been entered. The circuit court views the petition and its supporting material on their merits as to whether relief should be granted under Rule 60(b). Walker."

Evans v. Sharp, 617 So.2d 1039, 1040 (Ala. Civ. App. 1993). See also Ruzic v. State ex rel. Thornton, 866 So.2d 564, 568 n. 4 (Ala. Civ. App. 2003), abrogated on other grounds by F.G. v. State Dep't of Human Res., 988 So.2d 555, 570 n. 4 (Ala. Civ. App. 20017) ("When an appeal is properly taken from the district court's ruling on a motion for relief from a judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b), Ala. R. Civ. P., the circuit court's function is simply to review the motion 'and its supporting material on their merits [so] as to [determine] whether relief should be granted under Rule 60(b).'" (quoting Evans v. Sharp, 617 So.2d at 1040)). The trial court determined that there was no basis for relief available to the father under Rule 60(b), and it "denied" that motion, i.e., it affirmed the judgment of the juvenile court that had denied the father's Rule 60(b) motion.

         On September 27, 2018, the father filed a purported postjudgment motion pursuant to Rule 59(e), Ala. R. Civ. P. On that same date, the trial court entered an order purporting to deny the September 27, 2018, motion. The father filed a notice of appeal to this court on October 9, 2018.

         Neither party has addressed this court's jurisdiction to consider this appeal. However, jurisdictional issues are of such significance that this court takes notice of them, even ex mero motu. Heaston v. Nabors, 889 So.2d 588, 590 (Ala. Civ. App. 2004).

         This case was initiated as a child-support action designated as a "CS" action in the juvenile court. Accordingly, the Rules of Juvenile Procedure apply to govern the action. A.F. v. S.R., 209 So.3d 511, 514 (Ala. Civ. App. 2016); J.J. v. R.R., 159 So.3d 84, 85 (Ala. Civ. App. 2014); and M.C. v. L.J.H., supra. In an appeal to the circuit court of a juvenile-court judgment, the Rules of Juvenile Procedure apply. Rule 1(B), Ala. R. Juv. P.; J.F.M. v. C.W.B., 72 So.3d 663, 665 (Ala. Civ. App. 2011); W.C.R. v. D.A.L., 18 So.3d 420, 422 (Ala. Civ. App. 2009); and M.C. v. L.J.H., supra. The father had 14 days, or until October 5, 2018, to appeal ...


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