Determination of Mootness Not Final Judgment — Supports Neither Appeal Nor Mandamus

The probate court did not enter a “final judgment” by holding that a request for litigation costs was moot. The circuit court erred, therefore, by faulting the defendants for not appealing from that holding or seeking a writ of mandamus to correct it. LaConsay v. Langley, No. 2070999 (Ala. Civ. App. Jan. 23, 2009).

This case found a plaintiff suing for trespass and to establish an easement. It involves two successive appeals from the probate court to the circuit court.

The first appeal grew from the probate court’s refusal to award the defendants litigation expenses. After granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, the probate court held that their request for litigation costs was moot. The defendants appealed this decision to the circuit court, but the latter dismissed the appeal.

Returned to the probate court, the defendants moved again for litigation expenses. This time the probate court granted their motion. The plaintiff appealed to the circuit court, and the defendants cross-appealed. The circuit court granted summary judgment for the plaintiff, holding that the defendants should not have been awarded litigation costs. The court reasoned that the defendants had not timely appealed, or sought a writ of mandamus, after the probate court’s initial “denial” of their motion. From this summary judgment the defendants appealed.

The Court of Civil Appeals reversed. The circuit court was wrong to fault the defendants for not appealing or seeking mandamus; the determination of mootness enabled them to do neither. The appellate court wrote: “A ruling that an issue is moot is not an adjudication on the merits and is not a final judgment on the pending issue.” Consequently, a finding of mootness “does not bar further action on any matters not actually adjudicated.”

Because the mootness decision was not a final judgment, it could not have supported an appeal.

Nor could that decision have underlain a mandamus petition. After holding that the defendants’ request for costs was moot, “the probate court continued to have jurisdiction over” whether those costs could be awarded. The defendants thus “continued to have an adequate remedy in the probate court,” so that, on familiar mandamus principles, the filing of a petition “was unnecessary and, in fact, unwarranted.”

The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the summary judgment and remanded the case to the circuit court for further proceedings.