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SAI Montgomery BCH, LLC v. Williams

Supreme Court of Alabama

October 18, 2019

SAI Montgomery BCH, LLC, d/b/a Classic Cadillac, and Andrew Harper
v.
Donald Williams and Mary E. Williams

          Appeal from Montgomery Circuit Court (CV-18-900898)

          STEWART, JUSTICE.

         SAI Montgomery BCH, LLC, d/b/a Classic Cadillac ("Cadillac"), and Andrew Harper, general manager for Cadillac (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the Cadillac defendants"), appeal from an order of the Montgomery Circuit Court ("the trial court") denying their motions to compel arbitration. Because we conclude that the trial court was without jurisdiction to enter the order appealed from, we dismiss the appeal.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In December 2016, Mary E. Williams leased and took possession of a 2017 Cadillac XT5 automobile ("the XT5") from Cadillac. Cadillac required Donald Williams, Mary's husband, to cosign and provide his financial information as a prerequisite to approving financing for the XT5. Donald and Mary both executed the lease agreement, which contained an arbitration agreement. In mid-January 2017, Cadillac contacted Donald requesting additional financial information, which Donald provided. The day after Donald provided the requested information, Cadillac left a message for Mary to return to Cadillac's dealership with the XT5 on January 23, 2017. The Williamses did not go to Cadillac's dealership as requested and did not have any further contact directly with Cadillac. The Williamses had submitted two lease payments. On January 26, 2017, Mary was contacted by a private investigator working for Cadillac who was attempting to locate the XT5. On January 27, 2017, Mary filed a consumer complaint against Cadillac with the State of Alabama's Attorney General's Office. On January 30, 2017, the Williamses complied with a request from local law enforcement to come to the police station. The Williamses provided copies of the bill of sale, tag receipt, and leasing information for the XT5. The following day, law enforcement seized the XT5. On February 1, 2017, the Williamses arranged a meeting with law enforcement, but both Donald and Mary were arrested for theft of property when they arrived at the police station. A grand jury ultimately refused to return an indictment on the charges.

         On May 15, 2018, the Williamses sued the Cadillac defendants and fictitiously named defendants, asserting against the Cadillac defendants claims of malicious prosecution, slander, defamation, abuse of process, and conversion and against Cadillac wanton hiring, training, and/or supervision. On June 15, 2018, Cadillac filed a motion seeking to compel arbitration and to stay the trial-court proceedings, supported with an affidavit from Harper. On July 2, 2018, Harper, after being served, likewise filed a motion seeking to compel arbitration and to stay the trial-court proceedings, expressly adopting and incorporating Cadillac's previously filed motion. On July 5, 2018, the trial court entered an order granting Cadillac's motion to compel arbitration and to stay the proceedings.

         On July 17, 2018, the Williamses filed a motion seeking to vacate the July 5, 2018, order compelling arbitration. In their motion, the Williamses identified the motion as being filed pursuant to Rule 60(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P., and complained that they had not been notified that the case had been reassigned to another judge.[1] On October 11, 2018, the trial court entered an order setting an October 30 hearing on all pending motions. On October 23, 2018, the Williamses filed a response in opposition to the Cadillac defendants' motions to compel arbitration. The Cadillac defendants filed a reply in which they asserted, among other things, that the Williamses' July 17 motion had been denied by operation of law pursuant to Rule 59.1, Ala. R. Civ. P., and that the trial court was without jurisdiction to rule on the Williamses' postjudgment motion.

         On November 13, 2018, the trial court entered an order purporting to deny the Cadillac defendants' motions to compel arbitration. On December 6, 2018, the Cadillac defendants timely filed a notice of appeal to this Court.

         Discussion

         The Cadillac defendants appeal from the November 13, 2018, order purporting to deny their motions to compel arbitration. See Rule 4(d), Ala. R. App. P. ("An order granting or denying a motion to compel arbitration is appealable as a matter of right ...."). See also Bowater, Inc. v. Zager, 901 So.2d 658, 667 (Ala. 2004). As a threshold matter, however, we must first determine whether the trial court had jurisdiction to enter the order from which the Cadillac defendants have appealed because "a void order or judgment will not support an appeal." Gallagher Bassett Servs., Inc. v. Phillips, 991 So.2d 697, 701 (Ala. 2008).[2]

         The Cadillac defendants argue that the Williamses' July 17, 2018, postjudgment motion was actually filed pursuant to Rule 59, Ala. R. Civ. P., not Rule 60(b), and, thus, that the 90-day time limitation imposed by Rule 59.1 operated to deny the Williamses' motion by operation of law on October 15, 2018. As a result, the Cadillac defendants assert, the trial court was without jurisdiction to enter the order on November 13, 2018, purporting to deny the Cadillac defendants' motions to compel arbitration.

         The Williamses argue that their motion was filed pursuant to Rule 60(b)(6) and, that, therefore, it was not subject to denial by operation of law under Rule 59.1.[3] Rule 59(e) permits a party to file a motion to alter, amend, or vacate a judgment within 30 days of the entry of the judgment. It is well settled that this Court looks to the essence of a motion and not to its title to determine how the motion is to be considered under the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure. Ex parte Johnson, 715 So.2d 783, 785-86 (Ala. 1998). This Court has held on several occasions that a motion filed within 30 days of the entry of a judgment seeking relief that is available under Rule 59(e) should be treated as a Rule 59(e) motion to alter, amend, or vacate the judgment, regardless of how the motion is denominated. Id. See Ex parte Alfa Mut. Gen. Ins. Co., 684 So.2d 1281 (Ala. 1996); Sexton v. Prisock, 495 So.2d 581 (Ala. 1986); Holt v. First Nat'l Bank of Mobile, 372 So.2d 3 (Ala. 1979). Further this Court has repeatedly construed a "motion to reconsider" a judgment, when it has been filed within 30 days after the entry of a final judgment, as a Rule 59(e) motion. Evans v. Waddell, 689 So.2d 23 (Ala. 1997). A Rule 60(b) motion to set aside a judgment cannot be substituted for a Rule 59 motion so as to avoid the operation of Rule 59.1. See Matkin v. Smith, 531 So.2d 876 (Ala. 1988); Ingram v. Pollock, 557 So.2d 1199 (Ala. 1989).

         Rule 60(b)(6) permits a trial court to relieve a party from a judgment for "any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment."

"The 'catch all' provision of clause (6) of Rule 60(b) allows a trial court to grant relief from a judgment for 'any other reason justifying relief.' Barnett v. Ivey, 559 So.2d 1082, 1084 (Ala. 1990). '"Relief under Rule 60(b)(6) is reserved for extraordinary circumstances, and is available only in cases of extreme hardship or injustice."' Chambers County Comm'rs v. Walker, 459 So.2d 861, 866 (Ala. ...

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