Nonattorney Parents May Not Represent Minor Child Pro Se

In Chambers v. Tibbs, No. 2060480 (Ala. Civ. App Sept, 7, 2007) , the Alabama Court of Appeals addressed the interesting question of whether nonattorney parents may represent a minor child pro se.  The court held that they may not.

In Chambers v. Tibbs, parents sued a school board and others after their child was prohibited from going on a field trip after the parents refused to sign a form releasing the school board from any liability arising out of the field trip.  The parent filed suit againt the defendants on behalf of the child, and purported to represent the child.  The trial court defendants moved to dismiss the action because the parens, who were not attorneys, could not prosecute the action. 

The parents cited Ala. R. Civ. P. 17(c), which states that "[w]henever a minor has a representative, such as a general guardian or like fiduciary, the representative may sue in the name of the minor," for the proposition that they could proceed pro se on behalf of the child, even though they are not attorneys.  The Court of Civil Appeals rejected this argument.  The court noted that the Eleventh Circuit, applying the similar federal Rule 17(c), state that Rule 17(c) "permits authorized representatives, including parent, to sue on behalf of minors, but does not confer any right upon such representatives to serve as legal counsel."  p. 8, quoting Devine v. Indian River County Sch. Bd., 121 F.3d 576, 581 (11th Cir. 1997).  Further, in an analogous situation, the Alabama Supreme Court had held that a nonattorney executrix could not proceed pro se on behalf of the estate.  See Ex parte Ghafary, 738 So. 2d 778 (Ala. 1998).  In that case, the Court held that the right of a person to represent himself did not "extend to the representation of interests other that those of the pro se litigant,"  p. 10, and that Ala. Code 34-3-6(a) "prohibits a nonattorney executor or personal representative from representing an estate before a court of law."  Id.

Based on this authority, the court determined that the nonattorney parents could not prosecute an action or an appeal on behalf of the child, and this dismissed the child’s appeal.