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.

The circuit court entered an order modifying the parties’ custody, visitation, and child support obligations on September 11. On September 16, the mother filed a notice of appeal from that judgment; and, on the same day, the father filed a postjudgment motion to clarify the order so that it reflected the governing analysis of Ex parte McLendon, 455 So. 2d 863 (Ala. 1984). On September 30, the father moved to clarify the visitation provisions of the order. Then, on October 9, the circuit court made an entry in the case-action summary that purported to grant the father’s McLendon motion of September 16. On October 10, the mother filed an emergency motion alleging that the father had failed to comply with a provision in the order directing him to provide the minor child with treatment for dyslexia. The circuit court never ruled on that motion.

The Court of Civil Appeals raised the finality of the underlying judgment on its own motion. First, it observed that, under Rule 1(B) of the Alabama Rules of Juvenile Procedure, the father’s postjudgment motion of September 16 was denied by operation of law 14 days after it was filed but was not ruled upon. The mother’s notice of appeal, “which had been held in abeyance” while the father’s postjudgment motion was pending, “quickened” on September 30, when that motion was denied by law and the underlying judgment became final.

The various postjudgment filings did not disturb this finality, and thus did not prevent the Court of Civil Appeals from exercising jurisdiction. The father’s motion of September 30 to clarify visitation rights, to the extent that it could be considered a postjudgment motion, was untimely because it was not filed within 14 days of the modification order. The circuit court’s case-action entry of October 10, purporting to grant the father’s September 16 McLendon motion, which had already been denied by operation of law, was a “nullity.” Finally, the mother’s motion of October 10, alleging that the father had failed to provide dyslexia treatment for the child, was “akin to a contempt motion.” “The mother’s filing of that motion initiated a proceeding separate and independent from the action in which the custody-modification order had been entered and [did] not affect the finality of the custody-modification order.”

None of these acts in fact disturbed the finality of the September 11 order. The mother’s appeal from that order was from a “final” judgment and was timely. The Court of Civil Appeals had jurisdiction and proceeded to address the merits of the appeal.