Appellate Procedure - Rule 60(a), Ala. R. CIV. P. - Nunc Pro Tunc Orders - K. P. v. Madison County Department of Human Resources


K. P. v. Madison County Department of Human Resources, [Ms. 2160414, 2160415, and 2160416, July 21, 2017] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2017). In an opinion by Judge Donaldson (Thompson, P.J., and Pittman and Moore, JJ., concur, Thomas J., concurs in the result), the court dismisses the mother’s appeal in a dependency action as untimely.

On December 27, 2016, the juvenile court entered judgment terminating the mother’s parental rights. On January 9, 2017, the mother filed timely motions to alter, amend, or vacate the judgment. In the district court, postjudgment motions are deemed denied by operation of law if they are not ruled upon in 14 days. A January 26 order granting the motion was entered after the expiration of 14 days.

The mother argued that the juvenile court orally rendered a timely order granting her postjudgment motion at a January 23, 2017 hearing on her motion. However, the court rejected this argument noting that Rule 58(a) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure defines how an order is rendered as follows:

“A judge may render an order or a judgment: (1) by executing a separate document, (2) by including the order or judgment in a judicial opinion, (3) by endorsing upon a motion the words ‘granted,’ ‘denied,’ ‘moot,’ or words of similar import, and dating and signing or initialing it, (4) by making or causing to be made a notation in the court records, or (5) by executing and transmitting an electronic document to the electronic-filing system.”

Ms. *6. Because an oral pronouncement does not constitute a rendering of an order under Rule 58(a), the court concluded that no order on the mother’s postjudgment motion was rendered before the expiration of 14 days. Ms. *6. The order granting the mother’s postjudgment motion on January 26, 2017 was invalid, because the juvenile court lost jurisdiction to rule on the motion after January 23, 2017.

The mother argued that a written order entered by the juvenile court on June 15, 2017, corrected a “clerical error” and retroactively made the juvenile court’s January 26, 2017 order granting her postjudgment motion timely by changing nunc pro tunc the date it was rendered to January 23, 2017. The court rejected this argument. It first noted that “an order entered pursuant to Rule 60(a) relates back to the date of the order or judgment it amends and does not bear on the timeliness of the appeal from the order or judgment.” Ms. *8, quoting Hargrove v. Hargrove, 65 So. 3d 950, 952 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010) (citing Barnes v. HMB, LLC, 24 So. 3d 460, 462 (Ala. Civ. App. 2009)). Ms. *8. However, the court held that Rule 60(a) does not authorize a court to treat the failure to render a judgment as a clerical error and that an order could not be back-dated in this fashion because

the record conclusively establishes that the juvenile court’s orders purporting to grant the mother’s postjudgment motions were manually dated and signed by hand, and thus rendered pursuant to Rule 58(a)(1), Ala. R. Civ. P., on January 26, 2017. That date was after the mother’s motions had been denied by operation of law, and those orders, therefore, were void.

Ms. *10.

The court went on to hold

The juvenile court’s orders entered on June 15, 2017, purported to change the date of the postjudgment orders to reflect an entirely different date of rendering. Such action is impermissible under Rule 60(a) and is insufficient to confer any legal effect on the juvenile court’s void orders, because changing the date on which an order was rendered is not

“the kind of mistake associated with mistakes in transcription, alteration, or omission of any papers and documents that can be corrected pursuant to Rule 60(a).” For this Court to hold otherwise would allow Rule 60(a) to be used to supply non-action by the court in the place of its action and to make its judgment say something other than what was originally announced. This is not the function of Rule 60(a).”

Ms. *10-11, quoting Pierce v. American Gen. Fin., Inc., 991 So. 2d 212, 217 (Ala. 2008) (internal quote marks omitted). Because the mother’s postjudgment motion was denied by operation of law on January 23, 2017, her notice of appeal filed more than 14 days after that date were untimely and the appeals were due to be dismissed. Ms. *11.

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