Service By Publication – Void Judgment

City of Birmingham v. Metropolitan Management of Alabama, LLC, [Ms. 1200080, Sept. 17, 2021] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2021). The Court (Parker, C.J.; Shaw, Bryan, Mendheim, and Mitchell, JJ., concur) reverses the Jefferson Circuit Court’s denial of the City of Birmingham’s motion to vacate the judgment. Metropolitan Management of Alabama (“Metropolitan”) filed a quiet title action with respect to a parcel of real property it had acquired via a tax sale. The City argued that the circuit court erred in denying its motion to vacate the judgment because “the court lacked personal jurisdiction to adjudicate the City’s interest in the property because…, Metropolitan impermissibly served notice by publication.” Ms. *4.

In reversing, the Court notes that “Rule 4.3(b) provides: ‘When the residence of a defendant is known and the action is one in which service by publication is permitted, service of process must first be attempted by one of the methods of service other than publication as is provided by Rule 4 ....’ It is undisputed that Metropolitan did not attempt to serve the City by any method other than publication.” Ms. *5. Because Metropolitan had constructive notice of the City’s interest in the property through a recorded deed, the Court holds

Metropolitan’s service by publication without first attempting another means of service failed to comply with Rule 4.3(b). “Failure of proper service under Rule 4 deprives a court of jurisdiction and renders its judgment void.” Ex parte Pate, 673 So. 2d 427, 428-29 (Ala. 1995); see also Whitfield v. Sanders, 366 So. 2d 258 (Ala. 1978) (holding that improper service by publication rendered judgment void); Shaddix v. Shaddix, 603 So. 2d 1096 (Ala. Civ. App. 1992) (same). “[I]f [a] ... judgment is void because the trial court lacked subject-matter or personal jurisdiction or because the entry of the judgment violated the defendant’s due-process rights, then the trial court has no discretion and must grant relief under Rule 60(b)(4).” Allsopp v. Bolding, 86 So. 3d 952, 957 (Ala. 2011).

Ms. *10.

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