Goodlett v. Brittain, NOS. 2016-CA-000632-ME & 2016-CA-000786-ME

CourtCourt of Appeals of Kentucky
Writing for the CourtMAZE, JUDGE
Citation544 S.W.3d 656
Decision Date23 February 2018
Docket NumberNO. 2017-CA-000445-ME,NOS. 2016-CA-000632-ME & 2016-CA-000786-ME
Parties Michael Thomas GOODLETT, Appellant/Cross-Appellee v. Bill BRITTAIN; and Marsha Brittain, Appellees/Cross-Appellants and Michael Thomas Goodlett, Appellant v. Marsha Brittain; and Bill Brittain, Appellees

544 S.W.3d 656

Michael Thomas GOODLETT, Appellant/Cross-Appellee
v.
Bill BRITTAIN; and Marsha Brittain, Appellees/Cross-Appellants
and
Michael Thomas Goodlett, Appellant
v.
Marsha Brittain; and Bill Brittain, Appellees

NOS. 2016-CA-000632-ME & 2016-CA-000786-ME
NO. 2017-CA-000445-ME

Court of Appeals of Kentucky.

FEBRUARY 23, 2018; 10:00 A.M.


BRIEF FOR APPELLANT/CROSS-APPELLEE, MICHAEL THOMAS GOODLETT: Rhonda Duerr Girdner, Barbourville, Kentucky.

BRIEF FOR APPELLEES/CROSS-APPELLANTS, BILL AND MARSHA BRITTAIN: David M. Mills, Barbourville, Kentucky.

BEFORE: JONES, J. LAMBERT, AND MAZE, JUDGES.

OPINION

MAZE, JUDGE:

544 S.W.3d 659

Michael Goodlett appeals from an April 20, 2016, order of the Knox Family Court granting grandparent visitation to Bill and Marsha Brittain (collectively, "the Brittains"). The Brittains also appeal from that order, alleging that the visitation awarded was inadequate. Thereafter, Goodlett filed a notice of appeal from a February 22, 2017, order directing all parties to comply with the original visitation order. As an initial matter, we conclude that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction even though the Brittains withdrew their petition prior to its service on Goodlett. However, we agree with Goodlett that the trial court’s factual findings were insufficient to justify an award of grandparent visitation. Hence, we reverse and remand for entry of additional findings. Consequently, the issues raised in the Brittains' cross-appeal and Goodlett’s subsequent appeal are now moot. Hence, we dismiss those appeals.

Facts and Procedural History

Goodlett is the father of two children, ZDG (born November 2009), and ZMG (born March 2011). The children’s mother, Alesha, separated from Goodlett in 2014. She and the children resided with her parents, Bill and Marsha Brittain, beginning in March 2014. During this time, the Brittains helped Alesha care for the children while she underwent treatment for cancer. Goodlett had regular visitation with the children during this period.

In December 2014, Alesha filed a petition for dissolution of the marriage in the Bell Circuit Court. She also filed a motion for temporary custody of the children, which the circuit court granted. However, Alesha died on February 2, 2015, and shortly thereafter, Goodlett took custody of the children. The Brittains attempted to intervene in the dissolution action, and also brought a motion to establish grandparent visitation. But on March 17, 2015, the Bell Circuit Court denied the motions and dismissed the case, concluding that the dissolution action was subject to automatic abatement upon Alesha’s death.

On March 25, 2015, the Brittains filed the current action in the Knox Family Court, seeking grandparent visitation pursuant to KRS 1 405.021. Goodlett and the Brittains initially attempted to come to an agreement regarding visitation, but were unable to do so. In September 2015, the trial court entered an agreed order for temporary grandparent visitation. On Goodlett’s motion, the trial court scheduled an evidentiary hearing on the petition for grandparent visitation, which the trial court held on March 16, 2016.

At the conclusion of that hearing, the trial court granted visitation to the Brittains. The trial court gave the Brittains visitation with the children on alternate Saturday afternoons, with overnight visitation once a month beginning after a 120-day period. The court’s oral findings were

544 S.W.3d 660

memorialized by a written order entered on April 20, 2016.

Goodlett and the Brittains each filed a motion to alter, amend or vacate the order. Goodlett argued that the written order failed to reflect the trial court’s oral ruling, and the Brittains argued that their visitation was inadequate. The trial court denied both motions on April 27, 2016. This appeal and cross-appeal followed. Subsequently, Goodlett filed an appeal from February 22, 2017, order re-setting the Brittains' visitation to the original terms. These appeals are now submitted to this Court to be heard together. Additional facts relevant to these appeals will be set out below.

Jurisdictional issue

On June 12, 2017, this Court directed the parties to file supplemental briefs to address whether the trial court properly exercised subject-matter jurisdiction in this case. As we noted in that order, the Brittains filed a motion to withdraw their petition on April 10, 2015, before the petition was served on Goodlett. On April 27, the trial court granted their motion to withdraw the petition and dismissed the case. However, on June 26, 2015, the Brittains filed a motion under the same case number, seeking to re-open and re-docket their prior petition. The trial court granted the motion to re-open during a motion hearing on July 10, 2015. Goodlett filed his response to the petition and the matter then proceeded to the visitation order at issue in these appeals.

In our prior order, we questioned whether the trial court properly exercised jurisdiction over the re-opened petition. While neither of the parties raise this issue, it is well-established that a judgment entered by a court without subject-matter jurisdiction is void. Hisle v. Lexington-Fayette Urban Cty. Gov't , 258 S.W.3d 422, 430 (Ky. App. 2008). Therefore, the issue may be raised at any time, including on the Court’s own motion. Id. at 431. See also Goff v. Goff , 172 S.W.3d 352, 358 (Ky. 2005), and Duncan v. O'Nan , 451 S.W.2d 626, 631 (Ky. 1970).

In the present case, however, the trial court did not act outside of its general subject-matter jurisdiction, but only outside of its particular-case jurisdiction. While the former can never be waived by the parties, the latter can be waived if the error is not presented to the trial court. Commonwealth v. Steadman , 411 S.W.3d 717, 724-25 (Ky. 2013). Here, the trial court clearly had subject-matter jurisdiction over a petition for grandparent visitation. However, the trial court lost particular-case jurisdiction when it dismissed the petition at the Brittains' request.

We must again emphasize that a trial court loses jurisdiction to modify or amend a judgment more than ten days after a final order is entered. CR 2 52.02. See also Commonwealth v. Marcum , 873 S.W.2d 207, 211 (Ky. 1994) ; and Silverburg v. Commonwealth , 587 S.W.2d 241, 244 (Ky. 1979). After that time, a trial court does not have unfettered authority to re-open a case. Rather, the court’s authority to re-open a final order is subject to the provisions of CR 60.02. In this case, the Brittains did not allege any grounds under CR 60.02 to set aside that order. Under such circumstances, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to proceed under the previously-filed petition. Rather, the Brittains were required to file a new petition seeking grandparent visitation.

Nevertheless, Goodlett did not object to the motion to re-open the case, nor did he request specific findings under CR 60.02. Had he done so, our conclusions on this

544 S.W.3d 661

issue necessarily would be different. However, Goodlett effectively consented to the trial court’s exercise of jurisdiction over the particular case, and waived any right to raise the issue on appeal. Steadman , 411 S.W.3d at 725-26. While we do not approve of the failure to follow the requirements of CR 60.02, that deficiency did not affect the trial court’s subject-matter jurisdiction over this case.

Appeal Nos. 2016-CA-000632-ME & 2016-CA-000786-ME

Turning to the merits of the appeals, Goodlett first argues that the trial court’s written visitation order was inconsistent with its oral ruling following the evidentiary hearing. However, it is well-established that the court speaks through its "written orders entered upon the official record." Oakley v. Oakley , 391 S.W.3d 377, 378 (Ky. App. 2012), citing Kindred Nursing Centers Ltd. Partnership v. Sloan , 329 S.W.3d 347, 349 (Ky. App. 2010). Furthermore, Goodlett raised this issue in his post-judgment motion, and the trial court stated that its written order reflected its final determination regarding visitation. Therefore, we find no further basis to review this issue.

Goodlett primarily argues that the Brittains failed to overcome the presumption that he is acting in the best interests of the children. We review the trial court’s factual findings under the clearly-erroneous standard. Reichle v. Reichle , 719 S.W.2d 442, 444 (Ky. 1986). A finding supported by substantial evidence is not clearly erroneous. Moore v. Asente , 110 S.W.3d 336, 354 (Ky. 2003). Substantial evidence is that which is "sufficient to induce conviction in the mind of a reasonable person." Rearden v. Rearden , 296 S.W.3d 438, 441 (Ky. App. 2009). Moreover, we must give due regard to the trial court’s opportunity "to judge the credibility of the witnesses." CR 52.01. However, the trial court’s interpretation and application of KRS 405.021 in accordance with federal constitutional law and the application of the appropriate standard to the facts are issues of law and subject to de novo review by this Court. Walker v. Blair , 382 S.W.3d 862, 867 (Ky. 2012).

The parties agree that the controlling issue in...

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9 practice notes
  • Shelton v. Atkinson, 2021-CA-0397-MR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • June 24, 2022
    ...grandparent visitation is clearly in the children's best interest. Massie v. Navy, 487 S.W.3d 443, 447 (Ky. 2016). Goodlett v. Brittain, 544 S.W.3d 656, 664 (Ky. App. 2018). An order which cites factual findings as to the factors to be considered, citing the facts of the case, and then conc......
  • Martin v. Ky. Cabinet for Health & Family Servs., NO. 2017-CA-001940-ME
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • May 10, 2019
    ...can never be waived by the parties, the latter can be waived if the error is not presented to the trial court." Goodlett v. Brittain , 544 S.W.3d 656, 660 (Ky. App. 2018). The Hardin Family Court’s particular case jurisdiction attached when the parties pursued their dissolution issues there......
  • Houck v. Ballard, NO. 2017-CA-001692-ME
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • November 2, 2018
    ...lived in the grandparent's home for a time, will not always be sufficient to overcome the parental presumption. Goodlett v. Brittain, 544 S.W.3d 656, 662 (Ky. App. 2018). As the majority correctly notes, the mutual hostility between Houck and the Ballard family is especially intense. Under ......
  • Ginter v. Cox, NO. 2020-CA-0606-MR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • April 2, 2021
    ...as fit parents, which violates the Due Process Clause.Walker, 382 S.W.3d at 872 (footnote omitted); see also Goodlett v. Brittain, 544 S.W.3d 656, 662 (Ky. App. 2018) (explaining that in making this determination, "the mere existence of a close relationship between the grandparents and theP......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 cases
  • Shelton v. Atkinson, 2021-CA-0397-MR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • June 24, 2022
    ...grandparent visitation is clearly in the children's best interest. Massie v. Navy, 487 S.W.3d 443, 447 (Ky. 2016). Goodlett v. Brittain, 544 S.W.3d 656, 664 (Ky. App. 2018). An order which cites factual findings as to the factors to be considered, citing the facts of the case, and then conc......
  • Martin v. Ky. Cabinet for Health & Family Servs., NO. 2017-CA-001940-ME
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • May 10, 2019
    ...can never be waived by the parties, the latter can be waived if the error is not presented to the trial court." Goodlett v. Brittain , 544 S.W.3d 656, 660 (Ky. App. 2018). The Hardin Family Court’s particular case jurisdiction attached when the parties pursued their dissolution issues there......
  • Houck v. Ballard, NO. 2017-CA-001692-ME
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • November 2, 2018
    ...lived in the grandparent's home for a time, will not always be sufficient to overcome the parental presumption. Goodlett v. Brittain, 544 S.W.3d 656, 662 (Ky. App. 2018). As the majority correctly notes, the mutual hostility between Houck and the Ballard family is especially intense. Under ......
  • Ginter v. Cox, NO. 2020-CA-0606-MR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • April 2, 2021
    ...as fit parents, which violates the Due Process Clause.Walker, 382 S.W.3d at 872 (footnote omitted); see also Goodlett v. Brittain, 544 S.W.3d 656, 662 (Ky. App. 2018) (explaining that in making this determination, "the mere existence of a close relationship between the grandparents and theP......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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