Barfield v. City of Demopolis, 2210350

CourtAlabama Court of Civil Appeals
Writing for the CourtFRIDY, JUDGE
PartiesMichael Brandon Barfield v. City of Demopolis
Docket Number2210350
Decision Date23 September 2022

Michael Brandon Barfield
v.

City of Demopolis

No. 2210350

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

September 23, 2022


Appeal from Marengo Circuit Court (CV-20-900107)

FRIDY, JUDGE

Michael Brandon Barfield appeals from the default judgment the Marengo Circuit Court ("the trial court") entered in favor of the City of Demopolis ("the city") in its forfeiture action against him. We dismiss the appeal with instructions.

Background

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The city commenced a forfeiture action against Barfield in December 2020. In its complaint, the city alleged that Barfield had been arrested for illegal-drug trafficking and, at the time of his arrest, had been in possession of 176 pounds of "THC controlled substances" and $14,068 in cash ("the cash"). The city alleged that the cash had been used in the trafficking of illegal substances and was therefore subject to "condemnation."

An employee with the Houston County sheriff's office personally served Barfield with the forfeiture complaint and summons in March 2021. In May 2021, the city filed an application for an entry of default against Barfield based on his "failure to plead, answer, or otherwise defend." In support of its application, the city submitted the affidavit of Rex Flowers, the city's police chief, who stated that Barfield had been served with the complaint on March 30, 2021, and had failed to respond. On September 21, 2021, the trial court entered a default judgment against Barfield that ordered the condemnation and forfeiture of the cash.

On October 19, 2021, Barfield, represented by counsel, filed in the trial court a motion to set aside the default judgment pursuant to Rules

2

55(c) and 60(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. In that motion, Barfield claimed that he had appeared pro se at a pretrial conference held virtually using videoconferencing technology. Although Barfield did not include the date of the pretrial conference in his motion, the case-action-summary sheet indicates that a virtual pretrial conference was held on March 23, 2021. Barfield asserted that, during that virtual pretrial conference, he had asked the trial court to stay the forfeiture action pending the outcome of his criminal case. He said that he had believed that the trial court had issued an order staying the forfeiture action from the bench, but the case-action-summary sheet does not reflect that the trial court entered such an order. Barfield stated that he had been served with the forfeiture complaint the week after the virtual pretrial conference. He asserted that the trial court had scheduled a second pretrial conference for September 21, 2021, which he had attempted to attend virtually. According to Barfield, when his case was not called on the docket that day, he had inquired as to the status of his case and was told that a default judgment had been entered.

Barfield argued that the default judgment was due to be set aside pursuant to Rule 55(c) because, he said, he had a defense to the city's

3

action, i.e., that the cash the city seized came from a legitimate source; the city would not be unfairly prejudiced by setting aside the default judgment; and the judgment was not the result of his own willful and culpable conduct. Barfield argued alternatively that, pursuant to Rule 60(b)(4), the trial court should set aside the default judgment because, he said, the city lacked standing to bring the forfeiture action and, therefore, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the action.[1]

The trial court did not rule on Barfield's motion to set aside the default judgment. On January 26, 2022, Barfield filed a notice of appeal, claiming that his motion had been denied by operation of law on January 17, 2022, pursuant to Rule 59.1, Ala. R. Civ. P., which provides that certain postjudgment motions are denied by operation of law if not ruled on within ninety days after the date of filing.[2]

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Analysis

We begin by noting that Barfield's appeal has placed the trial court's default judgment properly before this court for appellate consideration. Although the trial court entered the default judgment on September 21, 2021, Barfield's postjudgment motion, to the extent that it sought relief under Rule 55(c), Ala. R. Civ. P., extended the time by which he was required to file a notice of appeal from that judgment. See Rule 4(a)(3), Ala. R. App. P. That motion, to the extent that it sought relief under Rule 55(c), was denied by operation of law on January 18, 2022. See Rule 59.1, Ala. R. Civ. P., and note 2, supra....

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