Effect of Voluntary Dismissal Pursuant to Ala. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)

Ex parte Baumgardner-Pickle, [Ms. 2210091, Dec. 3, 2021], ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2021). The court (Thompson, P.J.; Moore, Hanson, and Fridy, JJ., concur) grants a petition for a writ of mandamus directing the Lauderdale Circuit Court to vacate orders concerning a husband’s counterclaim for divorce because of the effect of the wife’s motion to dismiss her initial complaint for divorce filed the day before the husband filed his counterclaim. Noting that a Rule 41(a)(1)(i) dismissal does not require court action to be effective (Ms. *4, citing Riverstone Dev. Co. v. Nelson, 91 So. 3d 678, 681 (Ala. 2012)), once plaintiff dismisses an action in conformance with Rule 41(a)(1) “before service by the adverse party of an answer or a motion for summary judgment, whichever occurs first,” a defendant can take no action to reinstate the initial action. Ms. *5, citing Reid v. Tingle, 716 So. 2d 1190, 1193 (Ala. Civ. App. 1997).

The court also reiterates that the wife’s failure to properly label her motion as a “Notice of Dismissal” is “of no consequence” because Alabama case law “provides that the nomenclature of a motion is not binding and that courts should instead consider the substance of the motion.” Ms. *5, citing Synovus Bank v. Mitchell, 206 So. 3d 568, 571 (Ala. 2016). Accordingly, “a document that ‘gives notice of the plaintiff’s desire to dismiss the action’ which ‘[is] filed with the clerk’s office’ is sufficient under Rule 41(a)(1)(i) to serve as a notice of dismissal.” Ms. *5, citing Reid, 716 So. 2d at 1193.

Concluding that the effect of the wife’s voluntary dismissal was to render the proceedings a nullity and leave the parties as if the action had never been brought, the filing of the husband’s answer and counterclaim could not revive the wife’s action and the trial court lost jurisdiction over the dismissed claims and could not address the merits or issue further orders pertaining to them. Ms. **6-8, citing Walker Brothers Investment, Inc. v. City of Mobile, 252 So. 3d 57, 62 (Ala. 2017) and Duke Energy Trading & Mktg., L.L.C. v. Davis, 267 F. 3d 1042, 1049 (9th Cir. 2001). Accordingly, the wife established a clear legal right to the relief sought in her petition and the trial court was instructed to set aside its orders concerning the husband’s counterclaim as void. Ms. *8.

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