B.J. v. Calhoun Cnty. Dep't of Human Res., CL-2022-0514

CourtAlabama Court of Civil Appeals
Writing for the CourtMOORE, JUDGE.
PartiesB.J. v. Calhoun County Department of Human Resources
Docket NumberCL-2022-0514
Decision Date16 September 2022

B.J.
v.
Calhoun County Department of Human Resources

No. CL-2022-0514

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

September 16, 2022


Appeal from Calhoun Juvenile Court (JU-20-806.01)

MOORE, JUDGE.

B.J. ("the mother") appeals from a judgment entered by the Calhoun Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") on March 15, 2022, awarding custody of her child, C.J. ("the child"), whose date of birth is

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August 14, 2015, to M.J. ("the paternal aunt"). We dismiss the appeal as arising from a nonfinal judgment.

Procedural History

The pertinent procedural history of the case is as follows. On January 15, 2021, the Calhoun County Department of Human Resources ("DHR") filed a dependency petition relating to the child. On January 27, 2021, the juvenile court awarded DHR pendente lite custody of the child with the discretion to place the child in the physical custody of whomever it deemed appropriate and ordered DHR to use reasonable efforts to reunite the child with the mother and K.J. ("the father"). On that same date, DHR placed the child in the physical custody of the paternal aunt and her husband, J.J. ("the paternal uncle"). On April 15, 2021, the juvenile court adjudicated the child dependent, awarded custody of the child to DHR, ordered DHR to continue to use reasonable efforts to reunite the child with the mother and the father, and ordered DHR to develop a plan for the permanent disposition of the custody of the child. Part of the family-reunification plan called for the mother and the father to have supervised visitation with the child at regular intervals.

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On October 4, 2021, the juvenile court determined that reasonable efforts to reunite the family had not succeeded, but would continue, and that the most appropriate permanency plan for the child was "relative custody." On December 7, 2021, DHR filed a "motion to transfer custody," requesting that the juvenile court award legal and physical custody of the child to the paternal aunt and the paternal uncle and that it "terminate the case." On December 6, 2021, the father filed a response to that motion in which he requested that the juvenile court award him custody of the child.

On March 11, 2022, the juvenile court presided over a trial of the case. Before the trial commenced, the father withdrew his claim for custody of the child and consented to DHR's motion to transfer custody of the child to the paternal aunt and the paternal uncle. During the trial, the paternal aunt testified that she wanted to maintain custody of the child but that she would abide by any order of the juvenile court awarding the mother and the father visitation with the child. The mother testified that she wanted more access to the child than she was being provided under the current supervised-visitation plan.

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On March 15, 2022, the juvenile court entered an "Order of Modification of Dependency and Disposition Order," awarding legal and physical custody of the child to the paternal aunt. On March 16, 2022, the mother filed a notice of appeal of the March 15, 2022, order.[1] On March 21, 2022, the child's guardian ad litem filed a motion requesting that the juvenile court correct the March 15, 2022, order to reflect that the custody of the child had been awarded to both the paternal aunt and the paternal uncle and to award the mother and the father visitation with the child. On April 7, 2022, the juvenile court entered an order purporting to grant the guardian ad litem's motion.

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Finality

Generally speaking, "an order determining that a child is (or that a child remains) dependent coupled with a disposition of that child's custody is a final judgment capable of supporting an appeal." Marshall Cnty. Dep't of Hum. Res. v. J.V., 203 So.3d 1243, 1247 (Ala. Civ. App. 2016). In the April 15, 2021, order, the juvenile court determined that the child was dependent and awarded DHR custody of the child. Therefore, that order was a final, appealable judgment. However, that order did not resolve the dependency proceedings. The April 15, 2021, order specifically called for DHR to use reasonable efforts to reunite the family and to devise a plan for the permanent disposition of the custody of the child. See Ala. Code 1975, § 12-15-312. The order placed the custody of the child with DHR only as a "temporary protective measure to safeguard the child until either the parent[s] can safely resume custody or, reunification efforts having failed, some other permanent disposition of the child may be made." J.B. v. Cleburne Cnty. Dep't of Hum. Res., 992 So.2d 34, 48 (Ala. Civ. App. 2008) (Moore, J., dissenting).

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In the December 7, 2021, motion to transfer custody, DHR maintained that family-reunification efforts had been exhausted and had failed, that the child remained dependent, and that the legal and physical custody of the child should be awarded to the paternal aunt and the paternal uncle. Thus, DHR did not file a petition to modify the April 15,...

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