Premature Post-Judgment Motion and Notice of Appeal Became Effective When Target Orders Became Final

A father filed a post-judgment motion before the circuit court entered its judgment. This motion “quickened” and became effective when the trial court did enter judgment. Similarly, the father’s premature notice of appeal became effective when his post-judgment motion was denied. The father’s appeal was thus timely. T.T.T. v. R.H., No. 2070158 (Ala. Civ. App. Jun. 27, 2008).

The juvenile court held that a father had relinquished custody of his minor child. The court awarded custody of the child to the maternal grandparents, and ordered the father to pay child support. The father sought review in the Court of Civil Appeals.

The appellate court raised a jurisdictional issue on its own motion. The father had filed a post-judgment motion one day before the juvenile court actually entered its judgment. When the father filed this motion, then, there was no “final” judgment at which it could aim. The appellate court explained that such a premature motion “quickens” and is deemed filed when the target judgment is actually entered. The court wrote:

[I]f a party moves for a judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial before the court has entered judgment, the motion shall be treated as having been filed after the entry of the judgment and on the day thereof.

(Quoting New Addition Club, Inc. v. Vaughn, 903 So. 2d 68, 72 (Ala. 2004)). More broadly:

[A] premature postjudgment motion that, if it had been directed to a final judgment, would toll the time for filing a notice of appeal from a final judgment (see Ala. R. App. P. 4(a)(3)) “quickens” on the day that the final judgment is entered.

The father’s notice of appeal received a similar analysis. The post-judgment motion was denied by operation of law on the 91st day after it became effective. See Ala. R. Civ. P. 59.1. This was on November 14, 2007. The father had filed his notice of appeal five days earlier, on November 9, 2007. Like his post-judgment motion, the father’s notice of appeal “quickened,” became effective, and was deemed filed on the day his post-judgment motion was denied. The father’s appeal was therefore timely.