When Court Says No Jurisdiction, It Means It

When a trial or appellate court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a matter, the case is over. Period. The trial court cannot allow a party to correct the jurisdictional flaw by amending the complaint. The court must dismiss the action; all rulings that the trial court enters in the matter are void. Cadle Co. v. Shabani et al., No. 1070116 (Ala. Sept. 5, 2008).

In this ejectment action, Cadle tried to enforce a judgment against Shabani and AmSouth Bank. Cadle claimed an enforceable interest in the judgment by way of an assignment from American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc. ("AMEX"), the judgment creditor. AMEX held the sheriff’s deed for the property that was the subject of the judgment.

The trial court initially entered summary judgment in favor of Shabani and the bank, and Cadle appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s judgment because it found that Cadle did not have standing to bring the ejectment action. “’Because [Cadle] lacked standing to maintain the ejectment action, the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over this case, and its resulting judgment is therefore void. Carey v. Howard, 950 So. 2d 1131 (Ala. 2006).’" Cadle II at p. 3 (quoting Cadle Co. v. Shabani, 950 So. 2d 277 (Ala. 2006))(emphasis supplied).

On remand, the trial court entered an order in which it gave Cadle thirty days to amend its complaint. After the amendment, the parties participated in another round of summary judgment proceedings that produced a second summary judgment in favor of Shabani and the bank. Cadle appealed again.

In its second opinion, the Supreme Court left no doubt about the import its finding that neither it nor the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction over the case.

It is clear that all the parties, as well as the trial court, have failed to understand the import of our determination in Shabani that subject-matter jurisdiction is lacking. The significance of the jurisdictional defect pointed out in Shabani has been ignored by the parties in this appeal. . . .

Perhaps the trial court and the parties assumed that the jurisdictional defect created by Cadle’s lack of standing to commence this ejectment action was cured by the pleading purporting to amend the complaint to add additional parties. If so, they were mistaken. Standing is ‘"[t]he requisite personal interest that must exist at the commencement of the litigation.`" Pharmacia Corp. v. Suggs, 932 So. 2d 95, 98 (Ala. 2005)(quoting In re Allison G., 276 Conn. 146, 156, 883 A.2d 1226, 1231 (2005), quoting in turn H. Monaghan, Constitutional Adjudication: The Who and When, 82 Yale L.J. 1363, 1384 (1973)). "When a party without standing purports to commence an action, the trial court acquires no subject-matter jurisdiction." State v. Property at ` Rainbow Drive, 740 So. 2d 1025, 1028 (Ala. 1999). The jurisdictional defect resulting from the plaintiff’s lack of standing cannot be cured by amending the complaint to add a party having standing. Id. ("[A] pleading purporting to amend a complaint, which complaint was filed by a party without standing, cannot relate back to the filing of the original complaint, because there is nothing `back’ to which to relate."). See also Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Vann, 344 So. 2d 1212, 1214 (1977) ("We are unaware of any case where any court has reached a substantive issue absent a named plaintiff who has standing at the time the action was filed."). Thus, when, on September 18, 2006, the trial court entered an order purporting to "retain jurisdiction of the matter for thirty (30) days . . . in order to allow [Cadle] to amend its complaint," it had no jurisdiction to retain. Indeed, since July 28, 2006, the date this Court issued its opinion in Shabani, case no. CV-04-5665 has been, and is, over.

When the absence of subject-matter jurisdiction is noticed by, or pointed out to, the trial court, that court has no jurisdiction to entertain further motions or pleadings in the case. It can do nothing but dismiss the action forthwith. "`Any other action taken by a court lacking subject matter jurisdiction is null and void.’" Rainbow Drive, 740 So. 2d at 1029 (quoting Beach v. Director of Revenue, 934 S.W.2d 315, 318 (Mo. Ct. App. 1996)). Thus, upon our issuance of the opinion in Shabani, the trial court was duty bound to dismiss this action.
It follows that every order and judgment entered in case no. CV-04-5665 is void. Every order and judgment entered since the issuance of our opinion on July 28, 2006, is vacated; this appeal is dismissed as being from a void judgment; and case no. CV-04-5665 is hereby dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction..

Id. at 5-7.