Court Reviews Procedure for Appeal from Arbitration Award and Rule 60(b) Order

The Court of Civil Appeals addressed a number of specialized rules of appellate procedure in Tuscaloosa Chevrolet, Inc. v. Guyton, No. 2080590 (Ala.Civ.App. Dec 11, 2009). Tuscaloosa Chevrolet appealed from an order granting Shirley Guyton’s Rule 60(b) motion for relief from a judgment on an arbitration award in favor of the dealership. The Court of Civil Appeals addressed the preliminary procedural issue in the case, explaining that although the Court generally regards an order under Rule 60(b) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure as a non-appealable interlocutory order because additional trial court proceedings are likely, the order for Shirley was final and appealable because it “not only relieved her from [the arbitration] judgment but also rendered a judgment in her favor, which terminated the proceedings in the trial court.”  The Court then addressed the more complex procedure for appeals from arbitration awards.

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Order Which States Only That Marital Property Must Be Divided Equitably Is Not a Final Judgment For Purpose of Appeal

The Court Civil Appeals dismissed the appeal in Sims v. Sims, [Ms. 2070697] (Ala. Civ. App. Nov. 6, 2009), for lack of jurisdiction because it was an appeal of a non-final judgment.  The trial court’s order stated that the marital property must be divided equitably, but did not actually divide the property.  The Court of Civil Appeals held that the order was not final until the marital property was actually divided and, therefore, the appeal was dismissed becuase there was no final judgment.

Adoption Without Father’s Consent Was Void

A stepfather adopted his wife’s biological child. Because the child’s father had not consented to the adoption, however, as is required by Alabama statute, the adoption judgment was void. The father’s appeal from that judgment was accordingly dismissed. M.M. v. D.P., No. 2080592 (Ala. Civ. App. Oct. 30, 2009).

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Party Cannot Amend Complaint After Final Judgment Entered

In Ex parte Progressive Specialty Ins. Co., [Ms. 1080366] (Ala. Aug. 21, 2009), the Alabama Supreme Court issued a writ of mandamus directing the trial court strike an amendment purporting to add new claims and new parties made after final judgment was entered. Once the trial court enters a final judgment, the trial court loses jurisdiction to allow amendments to pleadings: "a trial court has no jurisdiction to entertain a motion to amend a complaint to add new claims or new parties after a final judgment has been entered, unless that ‘judgment is first set aside or vacates’ pursuant to the state’s rules of civil procedure." Slip Op. pp. 9-10, quoting Faith Properties, LLC v. First Commercial Bank, 988 So. 2d 485, 490 (Ala. 2008).  Here, there was no post-judgment motion, so the trial court was without jurisdiction to accept any amendments to the pleadings after the judgment was entered.

Post-Judgment Filings Did Not Disturb Finality of Judgment – Appellate Court Had Jurisdiction

The parties filed various motions following the circuit court’s modification of custody. One motion was untimely, and another was more in the nature of a separate proceeding. The court purported to grant one of these motions. None of this rendered the modification order non-final. The Court of Civil Appeals thus possessed appellate jurisdiction. A.M. v. J.S., No. 2071213 (Ala. Civ. App. Aug. 7, 2009).

This case involves a familiar walk through a tangle of dates. Ultimately, the Court of Civil Appeals decided that a flurry of post-judgment filings did not disturb the finality of the challenged judgment, so that it could exercise appellate jurisdiction over the case.

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Appeal Dismissed for Lack of Final Judgment

In Hall v. Reynolds, No. 1080408 (Ala. June 19, 2009), the trial court granted a motion for preliminary injunction but did not determine whether the plaintiff was entitled to a permanent injunction. After a bench trial, the trial court entered a "Final Order and Judgment." Defendant filed “what purported to be a postjudgment motion, which the trial court denied on November 11, 2008. On December 22, 2008, Hall filed a notice of appeal to this Court.” The Court dismissed the appeal because it was not from a final judgment that disposed of all of the claims against all of the parties. "’ [I]t is not the title of an order that makes it final; rather, the test of a judgment’s finality is whether it sufficiently ascertains and declares the rights of the parties.’ Ex parte DCH Recr’l Med. Gtr., 572 So. 2d 1162, 1164 (Ala. Civ. App. 1990)(citing McCulloch v. Roberts, 290 Ala. 303, 276 So. 2d 425 (1973)).”

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Court of Civil Appeals Dismisses Two Appeals As From Non-Final Judgments Where the Orders Appealed From Adjudicated Less Than All the Issues Before It, Yet Deems Another Judgment Final Where Two Motions Remained Pending in the Trial Court

Appeals in both Stocks v. Stocks, No. 2081033, and Laney v. Garmon, No. 2071233, were dismissed as from non-final judgments by the Court of Civil Appeals last week. By contrast, in A.M. v. J.S, a final judgment was found to support an appeal to the same court even though the circuit court had not ruled on two motions pending before it.

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New Opinion Addresses Wide Range of Final Judgment Topics

Washington Mutual Bank v. Campbell, No. 1060616 (Ala. May 22, 2009), contains a lengthy, informative discussion of many procedural issues regarding final judgments. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the defendant in this state court action based on the plaintiff’s failure to prosecute. The separate dismissal order and the ordered entered on the case action summary sheet stated that the case was dismissed pursuant to Rule 41(b). In a related federal court action, the defendant moved for summary judgment, asserting that the state court dismissal was with prejudice so that the federal action was barred by res judicata. The federal court asked the parties to seek clarification of the state court order. In answer to the plaintiff’s Rule 60(b)(6) motion, the trial court held that its dismissal was without prejudice. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed. For the text of this interesting discussion,

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