Standards For Civil And Criminal Contempt: C.N.M. V. J.D.D.


C.N.M. v. J.D.D., [Ms. 2160863, Feb. 9, 2018] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2018). This opinion by Presiding Judge Thompson (Pittman, Thomas, and Donaldson, JJ., concur; Moore, J., concurs in the result), affirms the Madison Juvenile Court’s order finding the mother in contempt for refusal to comply with court orders regarding the father’s visitation.

The opinion contains the following helpful discussion of the distinction between civil contempt and criminal contempt:

“In general, civil contempt seeks to compel compliance with a juvenile court’s judgment or order, while criminal contempt imposes punishment for failure to obey a judgment or order of the court. Rule 70A, Ala. R. Civ. P.; see also State v. Thomas, 550 So. 2d 1067, 1072 (Ala. 1989). An essential element of a finding of criminal contempt is that such a finding is intended to punish the contemnor, while a finding of civil contempt seeks to compel future compliance with court orders. See generally Chestang v. Chestang, 769 So. 2d 294 (Ala. 2000). Sanctions for criminal contempt are limited by statute to a maximum fine of $100 and imprisonment not to exceed five days. See Ala. Code 1975, § 12-11-30(5). On the other hand, sanctions for civil contempt may exceed those limits and may continue indefinitely until the contemnor performs as ordered.

“... In Chestang v. Chestang, supra, our Supreme Court reviewed the provisions of Rule 70(A), Ala. R. Civ. P., the rule that governs contempt in civil cases. The Supreme Court noted that Rule 70A(a)(2)(C) defines two types of criminal contempt:

(1) misconduct that obstructs the administration of justice and (2) willful disobedience or resistance to a court order or judgment ‘“where the dominant purpose of the finding of contempt is to punish the contemnor.’” Chestang, 769 So. 2d at 297-98.”

In Davenport v. Hood, 814 So. 2d 268 (Ala. Civ. App. 2000), this court explained that

“‘[t]he question of whether [an action involves] civil contempt or criminal contempt becomes important ... because a contemnor must be in a position to purge himself from the contempt. Mims v. Mims, 472 So. 2d 1063 (Ala. Civ. App. 1985). In order to purge himself in a criminal contempt case, the contemnor must pay the fine imposed, serve the authorized time, or do both. Kalupa v. Kalupa, 527 So. 2d 1313 (Ala. Civ. App. 1988). In order to purge himself in a civil contempt case, the contemnor must comply with the court’s order. Rule 33.4(b), A[la]. R. Crim. P.’”

814 So. 2d at 272-73 (quoting Hill v. Hill, 637 So. 2d 1368, 1370 (Ala. Civ. App. 1994)).

Ms. *10-11. The court affirmed the finding of contempt, even though the juvenile court’s order did not specify whether the mother’s contempt was criminal or civil. The court noted that “according to the mother’s own testimony, she refused to allow the father to exercise [] visitation, even after the father pointed to her that the December 1, 2016 order specifically ordered her to allow him to visit the children at that time.” Ms. *12.

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