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L.C. v. Shelby County Department of Human Resources

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

August 9, 2019

L.C. and B.C.
v.
Shelby County Department of Human Resources and Alabama Department of Human Resources

          Appeal from Montgomery Circuit Court CV-17-901751

          MOORE, JUDGE

         L.C. and B.C. appeal from a judgment entered by the Montgomery Circuit Court affirming an administrative order of the Alabama Department of Human Resources ("the Alabama DHR") that upheld indicated findings of child abuse and neglect made by the Shelby County Department of Human Resources ("the Shelby County DHR") against L.C. and B.C. We dismiss the appeal.

         Procedural History

         B.C. is the father of two minor children, C.C. and J.C., born of his marriage to V.R., which ended in divorce. L.C. is the current wife of B.C. and the stepmother of C.C. and J.C. In 2015, the Shelby County DHR received reports that L.C. and B.C. had abused C.C. After an investigation, the Shelby County DHR determined that the abuse was "indicated," meaning that "credible evidence and professional judgment substantiates that an alleged perpetrator is responsible for child abuse or neglect." Ala. Code 1975, § 26-14-8(a)(1). B.C. and L.C. timely requested an administrative hearing to contest the findings. See Ala. Admin. Code (Dep't of Human Res.), r. 660-5-34-.08(1) (affording a person who has been indicated for child abuse and neglect a right to a hearing to contest the findings).

         The administrative hearing took place on September 15, 2017, before an administrative-law judge ("the ALJ"), in a proceeding styled as "Before the State of Alabama Department of Human Resource Shelby County." David W. Smith, an assistant attorney general for the "Department of Human Resources Montgomery Regional Legal Office," acted as the attorney for the Shelby County DHR in those proceedings. On October 9, 2017, the ALJ issued an administrative order upholding the indicated findings.

         On November 8, 2017, B.C. and L.C. electronically filed a notice of appeal that was styled "Before the State of Alabama Department of Human Resource Shelby County" and in which they certified that they had served a copy of the document on Smith "by electronic filing" on that same date. Also, on that same date, L.C. and B.C. filed electronically in the Montgomery Circuit Court a "Petition for Trial De Novo or, in the alternative, Petition for Judicial Review Pursuant to Section 41-22-20 and Petition for Writ of Certiorari," naming the Alabama DHR as the respondent. B.C. and L.C. amended their petition to add the Shelby County DHR as a respondent. The petition and amended petition requested service by sheriff on

"David W. Smith, Assistant Attorney General Department of Human Resources 3030 Mobile Highway Montgomery, Alabama 36108"
and
"Shelby County Department of Human Resources 987 Highway 90
Columbiana, Alabama 35051."

         The record indicates that the Shelby County DHR was served on November 20, 2017, but that Smith was never served.

         On December 22, 2017, Elizabeth Hendrix, who identified herself as "Assistant Attorney General State of Alabama Department of Human Resources," filed a notice of appearance as counsel for the Shelby County DHR. No attorney ever appeared specifically for the Alabama DHR. On October 30, 2018, a final judgment was entered by the circuit court, affirming the ALJ's October 9, 2017, decision. The circuit court denied a postjudgment motion filed by B.C. and L.C. on January 28, 2019. B.C. and L.C. filed a notice of appeal on March 4, 2019, naming the Shelby County DHR and the Alabama DHR as appellees.

         Discussion

         Section 41-22-20(a), Ala. Code 1975, a portion of the Alabama Administrative Procedure Act ("the AAPA"), § 41-22-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, provides that a party who has been aggrieved by the final decision of an administrative agency may, upon exhausting all administrative remedies, obtain judicial review of that decision. The statutory right to judicial review through the AAPA forecloses review of a final decision issued by an administrative agency by any other means, including by common-law writ of certiorari. See Exparte Worley, 46 So.3d 916, 921-22 (Ala. 2009). The AAPA further defines the process by which a party may properly invoke the ...


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