Trial Court’s Jurisdiction After Remand From Appellate Court Is Limited By Mandate

In South Alabama Skills Training Consortium v. Ford, [Ms. 2080068] (Ala. Civ. App. July 24, 2009), the Court of Civil Appeals dismissed an appeal as being from a void judgment because the trial court’s jurisdiction on a review of a decision of an administrative law judge was limited by certiorari review, and the trial court did not have jurisdiction to go beyond the appellate court’s mandate after remand.

After their contracts were not renewed, some former employees sued divisions of community colleges pursuant to the Fair Dismissal Act.  The employees alleged that they were entitled to a hearing before they were dismissed.  The Administrative Law Judge ruled in favor of the former employees, and further held that its order applied to employees who were not parties to the suit.  The divisions filed for certiorari review in the Circuit Court.   The Circuit Court affirmed the administrative law judge’s findings.  In the original appeal in this case, the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the finding that the employees were entitled to a hearing, but reversed the circuit court’s determination that the decision could be applied to non-parties.  The Court of Civil Appeal remanded the case so that the trial court could effectuate the decision.

On remand, the employees asked the Circuit Court to award them back pay instead of sending the case back to the administrative law judge for that determination.  The trial court awarded the back pay, and the divisions of the community colleges again appealed.

On the second appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals found that the trial court’s judgment for back pay was void because the trial court did not have jurisdiction to issue the order.  First, the case was before the trial court by way of a petition for writ of certiorari.  Under certiorari review, the trial court’s review was limited to reviewing the actions of the administrative law judge.  The trial court did not have jurisdiction to decide new issues or conclusions of fact.

Further, the Court of Civil Appeals held that the trial court’s actions in awarding back pay went beyond the court’s mandate. Nothing in the Court of Civil Appeals’ opinion required the circuit court to enter a ruling on back pay benefits.

Therefore, the judgment entered by the trial court was void.  Because a void judgment will not support an appeal, the appeal was due to be dismissed.