Campbell v. Taylor

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Citation159 So.3d 4
Docket Number1110104.,1110057
PartiesJewel CAMPBELL et al. v. Ethel C. TAYLOR et al. Gladys A. Campbell and Paula Buettner v. Jewel Campbell et al.
Decision Date03 July 2014

159 So.3d 4

Jewel CAMPBELL et al.
Ethel C. TAYLOR et al.

Gladys A. Campbell and Paula Buettner
Jewel Campbell et al.


Supreme Court of Alabama.

July 3, 2014.

159 So.3d 6

Daniel G. Blackburn and Rebecca A. Gaines of Blackburn & Conner, P.C., Bay Minette, for appellants/cross-appellees Jewell Campbell et al.

Taylor D. Wilkins, Jr., and Robert W. Waller, Jr., of Wilkins, Bankester, Biles & Wynne, P.A., Bay Minette, for appellee Ethel C. Taylor.

Oliver J. Latour, Foley, for appellees/cross-appellants Gladys A. Campbell and Paula Buettner.



In case no. 1110057, Jewel Campbell, Acie A. Campbell, William J. Campbell, Jr., Roy J. Campbell, Eva Campbell, William C. Campbell, Kelly Calvert, and Amanda Givens (“the plaintiffs”) appeal from a summary judgment in favor of Ethel C. Taylor, Paula Buettner, Gladys A. Campbell, Jason Bennett, and Mendi1 Bennett (“the defendants”) in this dispute stemming from a judgment entered in 2006 in the administration of an estate. In case no. 1110104, Paula Buettner and Gladys A. Campbell, two of the above defendants, cross-appeal from the denial of their motion to strike certain affidavits filed by the plaintiffs in opposition to the defendants' summary-judgment motion. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the judgment in case no. 1110057; our holding in case no. 1110057 renders moot the cross-appeal, case no. 1110104.

Facts and Procedural History

These appeals involve a challenge to the disposition of the estate of A.V. Campbell, Sr. (hereinafter sometimes referred to as “the testator”), who died in 1977. He had at least four children: A.V. Campbell, Jr., William J. Campbell, Sr.,2 Ethel C. Taylor, and Archie Paul Campbell. His will was admitted to probate in 1977; those proceedings languished in the probate court until 2005. During this time, A.V. Campbell, Jr., and Archie Paul Campbell died. Ethel was ultimately named the executrix of the estate.

159 So.3d 7

In 2005, Gladys A. Campbell, one of Archie Paul Campbell's descendants, filed a petition under Ala.Code 1975, § 12–11–41,3 to remove the probate proceedings to the Baldwin Circuit Court (“the 2005 circuit court action”). She alleged, among other things, that Ethel, as the executrix, had failed to have the estate's property devised under the terms of the will. The case-action summary in the record for the 2005 circuit court action4 indicates that the following persons were ultimately named parties to the 2005 circuit court action: Ethel, who is the testator's daughter and executrix; Paula Buettner, Gladys, and Barbara Campbell, relatives of Archie Paul Campbell; and Jewel Campbell, William J. Campbell, Jr., Amanda Givens, and Kelly Calvert, descendants of William J. Campbell, Sr.

After several hearings, the circuit court, on November 28, 2006, issued a judgment that, among other things, distributed property according to the testator's will (“the 2006 judgment”). Specifically, certain property was awarded separately to (1) Ethel, (2) to Paula and Gladys, and (3) to “the heirs at law of William J. Campbell[, Sr.].” Jewel appealed from that judgment, and this Court affirmed the circuit court's judgment without issuing an opinion. Campbell v. Estate of Campbell (No. 1060567, Sept. 28, 2007), 22 So.3d 531 (Ala.2007) (table).

On June 2, 2009, the underlying action was filed in the Baldwin Circuit Court (“the trial court”). The plaintiffs purport to be the heirs of William J. Campbell, Sr. Some of the plaintiffs participated in the 2005 circuit court action; others did not. This new action was described as a “complaint to set aside judicial decree” and was alleged to be filed “pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure as an independent action for the purpose of setting aside” the 2006 judgment. The plaintiffs contended that, as the heirs of William J. Campbell, Sr., they were also heirs of A.V. Campbell, Sr., and were thus entitled to certain ownership interests in the property distributed in the 2005 circuit court action. The plaintiffs further alleged that they had not all been “named as parties” in the 2005 circuit court action and that they “were not before the [circuit court] at the time of the final adjudication.” They thus alleged that they were “not subject to” and “not bound by” the 2006 judgment, and they asked that it be set aside. Of the defendants in the underlying action, Ethel, Paula, and Gladys participated in the 2005 circuit court action; Jason Bennett and Mendi Bennett did not.

After various motions and after granting a motion by the defendants to strike certain affidavit testimony filed by the plaintiffs, the trial court purported to enter a summary judgment in favor of Ethel. The plaintiffs appealed, and the Court of Civil

159 So.3d 8

Appeals dismissed the appeal as being from a nonfinal judgment, Campbell v. Taylor, 76 So.3d 258 (Ala.Civ.App.2011). The proceedings resumed in the trial court.

Ethel again moved for a summary judgment. The remaining defendants also filed a motion for a summary judgment. The plaintiffs responded with their own filings in opposition, and the defendants moved to strike certain affidavit testimony supplied by the plaintiffs with their opposition. The trial court, without stating the findings on which its decision was based, ultimately granted the defendants' summary-judgment motions and denied their motions to strike. In case no. 1110057, the plaintiffs appeal the summary judgment in favor of the defendants. In case no. 1110104, Paula and Gladys cross-appeal from the trial court's denial of their motion to strike.


The complaint in the underlying action sought, pursuant to Rule 60(b), Ala. R. Civ. P., to set aside the 2006 judgment as “void,” in substance, seeking relief from the 2006 judgment under Rule 60(b)(4), Ala. R. Civ. P. (“[T]he court may relieve a party or a party's legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons: ... the judgment is void....”). On appeal, as in the trial court, the plaintiffs contend that all the plaintiffs were “necessary parties” to the administration of the estate but that some of them did not receive notice of the 2005 circuit court action, were not served with pleadings filed in that action, and were not properly named as parties. Thus, the plaintiffs argue, the 2006 judgment is “void.”

“ ‘The standard of review on appeal from the denial of relief under Rule 60(b)(4) is not whether there has been an abuse of discretion. When the grant or denial of relief turns on the validity of the judgment, as under Rule 60(b)(4), discretion has no place. If the judgment is valid, it must stand; if it is void, it must be set aside. A judgment is void only if the court rendering it lacked jurisdiction of the subject matter or of the parties, or if it acted in a manner inconsistent with due process. Satterfield v. Winston Industries, Inc., 553 So.2d 61 (Ala.1989).’
Insurance Mgmt. & Admin., Inc. v. Palomar Ins. Corp., 590 So.2d 209, 212 (Ala.1991). In other words, if the underlying 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). See also Bowen v. Bowen, 28 So.3d 9, 14 (Ala.Civ.App.2009) (holding that a Rule 60(b)(4) motion will be granted only when the prior judgment is void and not merely voidable).

It is under this standard that we review the trial court's ruling; however, the plaintiffs on appeal do not explicitly present their arguments in terms of the framework of the above three grounds—a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, a lack of personal jurisdiction over the parties, or a violation of due process. Instead, they cite caselaw holding generally that all heirs are proper and necessary parties in estate actions like the 2005 circuit court action. See Jacobs v. Murphy, 245 Ala. 260, 263, 16 So.2d 859, 862 (1944) (noting in the administration of an estate removed from the probate court to the circuit court that “[i]n all suits in equity respecting the lands of decedent his heirs at law are necessary parties”);

159 So.3d 9

Irwin v. Irwin, 227 Ala. 140, 141, 148 So. 846, 847 (1933) (stating in the context of administration of an estate removed from the probate court to the circuit court that the heirs at law are “proper parties” and “necessary to a full and complete relief”); and Irwin v. J.S. Reeves & Co., 222 Ala. 647, 647–48, 133 So. 692, 692 (1931) (rejecting the argument that “the heirs of decedent [and] distributees of the estate” are not “proper parties” in an administration of an estate removed “into the equity court”); see also Cook v. Castleberry, 233 Ala. 650, 653, 173 So. 1, 3 (1937) (stating that the administrator of the estate of a deceased distributee is a “necessary party” to the administration of an estate in equity). The lack of necessary parties, the plaintiffs argue, rendered the 2006 judgment “void.”


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