Mootness; Want of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction


Magic City Capital, LLC v. Twickenham Place Partners, LLC, [Ms. 1180215, Oct. 25, 2019] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2019). In this plurality opinion (Stewart, J.; and Parker, C.J., and Bolin and Wise, JJ., concur; Sellers, J., concurs in the result), the Court dismisses an appeal because the judgment ostensibly appealed from was entered by a trial court lacking subject-matter jurisdiction and was therefore void and would not support an appeal. Ms. **15-16 (citing MPQ, Inc. v. Birmingham Realty Co., 78 So. 3d 391-94 (Ala. 2011)). The reason the underlying judgment is void is because the issue presented by summary judgment was rendered moot. The Court explains the concept of mootness this way:

In considering mootness,

"'[t]his Court has often said that, as a general rule, it will not decide questions after a decision has become useless or moot. Ex parte McFry, 219 Ala. 492, 122 So. 641 (1929); Byrd v. Sorrells, 265 Ala. 589, 93 So. 2d 146 (1957); Chisolm v. Crook, 272 Ala. 192, 130 So. 2d 191 (1961); Jacobs Banking Company v. Campbell, 406 So. 2d 834 (Ala. 1981). Alabama courts do not give opinions in which there is no longer a justiciable controversy; yet, Alabama has recognized two exceptions to the mootness doctrine: questions of great public interest and questions that are likely of repetition of the situation. Byrd v. Sorrells, supra, State ex rel. Eagerton v. Corwin, 359 So. 2d 767 (Ala. 1977). Neither of these exceptions seems applicable here ....'

"Arrinqton v. State ex rel. Parsons, 422 So. 2d 759, 760 (Ala. 1982).

"'"'A moot case or question is a case or question in or on which there is no real controversy; a case which seeks to determine an abstract question which does not rest on existing facts or rights, or involve conflicting rights so far as plaintiff is concerned.'" Case v. Alabama State Bar, 939 So. 2d 881, 884 (Ala. 2006) (quoting American Fed'n of State, County & Mun. Employees v. Dawkins, 268 Ala. 13, 18, 104 So. 2d 827, 830-31 (1958)). "The test for mootness is commonly stated as whether the court's action on the merits would affect the rights of the parties." Crawford v. State, 153 S.W.3d 497, 501 (Tex. App. 2004) (citing VE Corp. v. Ernst & Young, 860 S.W.2d 83, 84 (Tex. 1993)). "A case becomes moot if at any stage there ceases to be an actual controversy between the parties." Id. (emphasis added) (citing National Collegiate Athletic Ass'n v. Jones, 1 S.W.3d 83, 86 (Tex. 1999)).

"'"There must be a bona fide existing controversy of a justiciable character to confer upon the court jurisdiction to grant declaratory relief under the declaratory judgment statutes, and if there was no justiciable controversy existing when the suit was commenced the trial court had no jurisdiction." State ex rel. Baxley v. Johnson, 293 Ala. 69, 73, 300 So. 2d 106, 110 (1974). "'"Unless the trial court has before it a justiciable controversy, it lacks subject matter jurisdiction and any judgment entered by it is void ab initio."'" Sustainable Forests, L.L.C. v. Alabama Power Co., 805 So. 2d 681, 683 (Ala. 2001) (quoting Hunt Transition & Inaugural Fund, Inc. v. Grenier, 782 So. 2d 270, 272 (Ala. 2000), quoting in turn Ex parte State ex rel. James, 711 So. 2d 952, 960 n. 2 (Ala. 1998)). "A moot case lacks justiciability." Crawford, 153 S.W.3d at 501. Thus, "[a]n action that originally was based upon a justiciable controversy cannot be maintained on appeal if the questions raised in it have become moot by subsequent acts or events." Case, 939 So. 2d at 884 (citing Employees of Montgomery County Sheriff's Dep't v. Marshall, 893 So. 2d 326, 330 (Ala. 2004)).

"'"'The lack of a justiciable controversy may be raised either by a motion to dismiss, Rule 12, [Ala. R. Civ. P.], or a motion for summary judgment.'" Hornsby v. Sessions, 703 So. 2d 932, 937 (Ala. 1997)(quoting Smith v. Alabama Dry Dock & Shipbuilding Co., 293 Ala. 644, 649, 309 So. 2d 424, 427 (1975)). Indeed, "[i]t is well settled that lack of subject-matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time by the parties or by the court ex mero motu." Ex parte V.S., 918 So. 2d 908, 912 (Ala. 2005). "'"[I]f there is an absence of jurisdiction over ... the subject matter, a court has no power to act, and jurisdiction over the subject matter cannot be created by waiver or consent."'" Id. (quoting Flanniqan v. Jordan, 871 So. 2d 767, 768 (Ala. 2003), quoting in turn Norton v. Liddell, 280 Ala. 353, 356, 194 So. 2d 514, 517 (1967)). A court without subject-matter jurisdiction "'may take no action other than to exercise its power to dismiss the action.... Any other action ... is null and void.'" State v. Property at 2018 Rainbow Drive, 740 So. 2d 1025, 1029 (Ala. 1999) (quoting Beach v. Director of Revenue, 934 S.W.2d 315, 318 (Mo. Ct. App. 1996)). ...'

"Chapman v. Gooden, 974 So. 2d 972, 983-84 (Ala. 2007) (first emphasis original; other emphasis added).

"A declaratory-judgment action may be rendered moot.

"'Declaratory-judgment actions in Alabama are governed by the Declaratory Judgment Act, codified at §§ 6-6-220 through -232, Ala. Code 1975 ("the Act"). The Act does not "'empower courts to decide moot questions, abstract propositions, or to give advisory opinions, however convenient it might be to have these questions decided for the government of future cases.'" Stamps v. Jefferson County Bd. of Educ., 642 So. 2d 941, 944 (Ala. 1994) (quoting Town of Warrior v. Blaylock, 275 Ala. 113, 114, 152 So. 2d 661, 662 (1963))(emphasis added in Stamps). Pursuant to § 6-6-226, declaratory relief may be afforded in cases "in which a judgment will terminate the controversy or remove the uncertainty," but § 6-6-229 emphasizes the corollary that "[t]he court may refuse to enter a declaratory judgment where such judgment, if entered, would not terminate the uncertainty or controversy giving rise to the proceeding."'

"Bruner v. Geneva County Forestry Dep't, 865 So. 2d 1167, 1175 (Ala. 2003). See also Hunt Transition & Inaugural Fund, Inc. v. Grenier, 782 So. 2d 270, 272 (Ala. 2000) ('For a court to grant declaratory relief, it must have before it a bona fide, presently existing justiciable controversy that affects the legal rights or obligations of the parties.'); VanLoock v. Curran, 489 So. 2d 525, 531 (Ala. 1986) ('Indeed, moot questions are not properly the subject of declaratory judgment actions.' (citing City of Mobile v. Scott, 278 Ala. 388, 178 So. 2d 545 (1965)))."

Underwood v. Alabama State Bd. of Educ., 39 So. 3d 120, 127-28 (Ala. 2009).

Ms. **10-13.

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