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Ex parte J.R.H.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

June 21, 2019

Ex parte J.R.H.
v.
J.R.H. In re: State of Alabama Department of Human Resources ex rel. A.D.D.

          Morgan Juvenile Court, CS-18-900072

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

          THOMPSON, PRESIDING JUDGE

         J.R.H. ("the father") filed a petition for a writ of mandamus requesting that this court direct the Morgan Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") to vacate its order denying his motion to dismiss filed in this action and to enter an order granting his motion to dismiss. For the reasons set forth below, we deny the petition.

         The materials submitted to this court in support of the father's petition indicate that on April 11, 2008, the Morgan Circuit Court ("the circuit court") entered an order dismissing a complaint filed by B.D.D. ("the mother") against the father insofar as it sought a divorce; the mother asserted initially that the parties were married at common law. In that order, however, the circuit court explained that the mother and the father had agreed that no common-law marriage existed between them. The circuit court also ordered that the mother's and the father's claims pertaining to custody of their two minor children and child support be transferred to the juvenile court.

         On March 3, 2009, the juvenile court entered a judgment in which it adjudicated the father's paternity of the two minor children, awarded the mother sole custody of the children subject to the father's rights of visitation, and ordered the father to pay $177 per month in child support. That March 3, 2009, judgment was entered in case number CS-08-133.

         In January 2015, the State of Alabama Department of Human Resources ("DHR"), on behalf of the mother, filed a petition in the juvenile court seeking to have the father held in contempt for failure to pay child support and requesting a modification of the father's child-support obligation. That action was designated by the juvenile-court clerk as case number CS-13-90211.01. The materials submitted to this court do not indicate whether an order was entered in that action or whether the action was renumbered. However, it is clear that the petition originally filed in case number CS-13-90211.01 sought to enforce and modify the $177 per month child-support obligation established in the March 3, 2009, judgment entered in case number CS-08-133. The materials submitted to this court indicate that the juvenile court entered in case number CS-08-133.01 an April 21, 2015, judgment addressing the claims asserted in DHR's January 2015 petition filed on behalf of the mother in case number CS-13-90211.01. In that April 21, 2015, judgment entered in case number CS-08-133.01, the juvenile court found the father to be $14, 391.97 in arrears on his child-support obligation, ordered the father to pay $100 per month toward that accumulated child-support arrearage, and increased the father's regular monthly child-support obligation to $650 per month.

         On March 3, 2018, DHR, on behalf of the mother, filed a petition to modify the father's child-support obligation. That action was designated as case number CS-08-133.02. In that action, DHR alleged that the mother no longer had physical custody of the children, and it sought to suspend the father's child-support obligation being paid to the mother, but DHR requested an increase in the child-support-arrearage payments established in the April 21, 2015, judgment. The father answered and filed a counterclaim seeking to enforce and/or to modify the visitation provisions set forth in the March 3, 2009, judgment and to modify custody of the children. In his answer and counterclaim, the father alleged that the mother had left the children with her mother, A.A.D. ("the maternal grandmother").

         Also on March 3, 2018, DHR, on behalf of the maternal grandmother, filed a separate action against the father seeking to "establish" a child-support obligation in favor of the maternal grandmother and seeking an award of retroactive child support. DHR's March 3, 2018, action filed on behalf of the maternal grandmother was designated as case number CS-18-900072, and that action is the one from which this petition for a writ of mandamus arises. On March 30, 2019, the father moved to dismiss case number CS-18-900072. In his motion to dismiss, the father specifically referenced Rule 12(b)(1), Ala. R. Civ. P. (permitting dismissal on the basis of "lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter"), and argued that the maternal grandmother had no right to an award of child support.

         DHR replied to the father's motion to dismiss by arguing that the maternal grandmother had applied for services from the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Morgan County Department of Human Resources ("the Morgan County DHR") and that, when she had done so, the maternal grandmother had alleged that she had custody of the children. DHR argued that it was attempting to enforce the father's continuing obligation to contribute to the support of the children.

         On April 10, 2019, the juvenile court entered an order denying the father's motion to dismiss. The father filed a timely petition for a writ of mandamus, arguing that the juvenile court erred in failing to grant his motion to dismiss case number CS-18-900072.

"'"'The denial of a motion to dismiss or a motion for a summary judgment generally is not reviewable by a petition for writ of mandamus, subject to certain narrow exceptions ....'"' Ex parte University of South Alabama, 183 So.3d 915, 918 (Ala. 2016) (quoting Drummond Co. v. Alabama Dep't of Transp., 937 So.2d 56, 57 (Ala. 2006), quoting in turn Ex parte Haralson, 853 So.2d 928, 931 n.2 (Ala. 2003)). '"In all but the most extraordinary cases, an appeal is an adequate remedy ...."' Ex parte Watters, 212 So.3d 174, 181 (Ala. 2016) (quoting Ex parte Jackson, 780 So.2d 681, 684 (Ala. 2000) (emphasis added)). In Ex parte U.S. Bank National Ass'n, 148 So.3d 1060 (Ala. 2014), this Court recognized that one of the exceptions under which this Court will review by a petition for a writ of mandamus the denial of a motion to dismiss or a motion for a summary judgment is when there is a question regarding the trial court's subject-matter jurisdiction. 148 So.3d at 1064."

Ex parte Sanderson, 263 So.3d 681, 685 (Ala. 2018).

         In his petition for a writ of mandamus, the father acknowledges the limited review available to a petitioner challenging the denial of a motion to dismiss. However, the father argues that he is challenging the subject-matter jurisdiction of the juvenile court. Therefore, he argues, his petition falls within the "subject-matter jurisdiction exception" recognized in Ex parte Sanderson, supra, and similar cases.

         "'"Subject-matter jurisdiction concerns a court's power to decide certain types of cases."'" Ex parte B.W., 257 So.3d 334, 335 (Ala. Civ. App. 2018) (quoting Bates v. Stewart, 99 So.3d 837, 850 (Ala. 2012), quoting in turn Ex parte Seymour, 946 So.2d 536, 538 (Ala. 2006)). Among other things, the father argues that he does not have any children with the maternal grandmother, and, therefore, he says, the juvenile court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to order him to pay child support to her or to DHR on her behalf. The father cites no authority in support of ...


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