Domestic Relations Division Of Jefferson Circuit Court Had Subject Matter Jurisdiction Over Tort Claims


Ex parte Wyatt Properties, LLC, et al., consolidated with Ex parte Grey First, LLC, [Ms. 2200159 and Ms. 2200214, Apr. 16, 2021] ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2021). The court (Edwards, J.; Thompson, P.J., and Moore and Hanson, JJ., concur; Fridy, J., recuses) denies consolidated mandamus petitions which, inter alia, challenged the Jefferson Circuit Domestic Relations Division’s refusal to transfer to the Civil Division tort claims asserted in post-judgment modification proceedings in a divorce.

Peake and Wyatt were divorced via a 2019 judgment approving a settlement agreement. The divorce judgment entered by Judge Chappell provided that Wyatt and Peake would continue to be 50/50 owners of Wyatt Properties and Beacon Towers and that “[s]o long as Wyatt Properties ... generates income, [Wyatt] and [Peake] shall each receive fifty percent (50%) of any income resulting from their interest in said entity.” Ms. *5. Peake filed a petition to modify custody and in September 2019 modified her petition to request that the court make her the sole owner of Wyatt Properties because Wyatt was allegedly stealing money from the company and had caused Beacon Towers to be on the brink of foreclosure. Ms. **7-8. Also, on October 10, 2019, Peake filed a complaint against Wyatt in the Civil Division alleging mismanagement. Ms. *8.

The civil action, which included a jury demand, was assigned to Judge Hatcher. Judge Hatcher concluded that the domestic relations division had exclusive jurisdiction and granted Wyatt’s request to transfer the civil action to the domestic relations division pursuant to § 12-11-11. Ms. *13. Peake did not challenge the transfer order and instead filed an amended petition in the modification proceeding before Judge Chappell asserting the same tort claims that she had filed in the Civil Division. Judge Chappell then denied Peake’s motion to transfer the tort claims to the Civil Division. Ms. *14. The court denies Peake’s mandamus petition challenging Judge Chappell’s refusal to transfer her tort claims to the Civil Division, and explains

“Each circuit court as a whole has jurisdiction over equitable matters, ... just as each circuit court has jurisdiction over civil [and] criminal ... matters .... Jurisdiction over divisional matters is still vested in the entire circuit court; a judge receiving a case that belongs in another division may transfer that case to the proper division, but if the transfer is not made, the original judge still retains jurisdiction over the case.” See Ex parte Birmingham So. R.R.,473 So. 2d 500,502 (Ala. 1985)(Shores, J.,concurring).

Ms. **28-29.

The court notes

To be clear, consistent with Ex parte Boykin [611 So. 2d 322 (Ala. 1992)] and Turenne [v. Turenne, 884 So. 2d 844 (Ala. 2003)], we are not holding that the civil division lacked jurisdiction over all claims that were alleged in the civil action, particularly to the extent that those claims did not involve the interpretation, clarification, or enforcement of the divorce judgment or did not otherwise arise from the divorce judgment; Judge Hatcher’s December 2020 order is not before us, however, and the Peake petitioners failed to seek timely mandamus review regarding that transfer order.

Ms. *33.

Finally, the court denies Peake’s challenge to Judge Chappell’s denial of a jury trial. While noting that Judge Chappell may have erred in concluding that a jury trial was not available in the Domestic Relations Division, the court notes, “[w]e consider the Peake petitioners’ argument to be inadequately made, see Ex parte Showers, 812 So. 2d 277, 281 (Ala. 2001) (discussing the requirements of Rules 21(a) and 28(a), Ala. R. App. P.), and we will not further address whether Judge Chappell’s interlocutory ruling as to the jury-trial issue should be corrected at this point in the underlying proceedings.” Ms. *39

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