Lack of Express Postjudgment Ruling Leads to Automatic Denial and Late Appeal

The trial court held a hearing but “did not expressly rule” on a father’s postjudgment motion. Under Rule 59.1, that motion was consequently denied by operation of law 90 days after its filing. An appeal lodged 43 days after the automatic denial was late. Smith v. Smith, No. 2070435 (Ala. Civ. App. Sept. 26, 2008). An earlier order which had “granted the motion in part” — but had really only set it for hearing — was not a “ruling” within the meaning of Rule 59.1.

A father filed a postjudgment motion challenging an award of child support. Five days later, the trial court entered an order that “granted [the motion] in part.” In fact, this order only set the motion for a hearing. That hearing was held, but the trial court still “did not expressly rule on” the motion. Ninety days after its filing, the motion was thus denied by operation of law under Rule 59.1. The next day, the trial court entered an order purporting to deny the father’s postjudgment motion.

Forty-two days after that last order the father filed an appeal. This, of course, was 43 days after the motion had been automatically denied.

The Court of Civil Appeals dismissed the appeal as late, raising on its own motion the issue of timeliness. The court also “noted” that the trial court’s earlier order —which had nominally “granted” the father’s postjudgment motion “in part,” but had only set it for a hearing — “was not a ruling on the merits.” It therefore was not a “ruling” within the meaning of Rule 59.1.