Klaeser v. Milton, No. 2080722 (Ala. Civ. App. 1/8/2010), No. 2080722.

CourtAlabama Court of Civil Appeals
Writing for the CourtThomas
PartiesKathleen Ann Klaeser v. Osborne Milton, Jr.
Docket NumberNo. 2080722.
Decision Date08 January 2010

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Kathleen Ann Klaeser
Osborne Milton, Jr.
No. 2080722.
Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama.
Decided January 8, 2010.

Appeal from Madison Circuit Court (DR-00-486.05).

THOMAS, Judge.

Kathleen Ann Klaeser appeals from the Madison Circuit Court's denial of her motion to set aside a default judgment in favor of Osborne Milton, Jr. We affirm.

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Facts and Procedural History

Milton and Klaeser were divorced in 2000. The divorce judgment, in part, awarded Klaeser primary physical custody of the parties' younger child ("the child"). On November 28, 2006, Milton petitioned the trial court to modify custody by awarding Milton primary physical custody of the child. The process server attempted to serve Klaeser at her home; however, Klaeser was not present. The process server left the service with the child, who was then 15 years old.1 Klaeser did not receive the papers from the child until several days later.2 On September 11, 2007, Milton filed an amended complaint, adding a claim requesting that the trial court modify the post minority-educational-support provision in the parties' divorce judgment.

Klaeser did not answer Milton's petition or file any other responsive pleading. On November 2, 2007, Milton applied to the clerk for entry of a default judgment against

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Klaeser. Milton included an affidavit with his application for default; however, he failed to state in his affidavit whether Klaeser was in active military service. Klaeser is a colonel in the United States Army Reserve, and, on May 17, 2007, Klaeser was placed in active military service. It is unclear whether Milton knew that Klaeser had been placed in active military service. The trial court entered a default judgment against Klaeser on February 29, 2008. In May 2008, Klaeser mailed a letter to the trial court alleging that she was in active military service and therefore covered by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003, codified at 50 App. U.S.C. § 501 et seq. ("the Act"). In November 2008, Klaeser mailed a letter to the trial court contesting the amount of child support awarded to Milton in the default judgment. The court held a hearing on Klaeser's "contest" of the judgment and, on January 5, 2009, denied her request for relief. Klaeser was represented by counsel at the hearing.

On January 19, 2009, Klaeser moved the trial court pursuant to Rule 60(b) (4), Ala. R. Civ. P., and the Act to set aside the default judgment. Klaeser alleged in her motion that the default judgment was void for insufficiency of

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service of process and that the default judgment had been entered in contravention of the provisions of the Act. The trial court held a hearing and, in a detailed written order, denied Klaeser's motion. Klaeser timely appealed to this court.


Klaeser raises two issues in her appeal: (1) whether the trial court erred when it determined that Klaeser had been properly served; and (2) whether the trial court erred when it determined that Klaeser had not demonstrated that she was entitled to have the default judgment set aside pursuant to the provisions of the Act.

Standard of Review

We apply a de novo standard of review to a trial court's ruling on a Rule 60(b) (4) motion.

"`"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."'"

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Russell Coal Co. v. Smith, 845 So. 2d 781, 783 (Ala. 2002)(quoting Northbrook Indem. Co. v. Westgate, Ltd., 769 So. 2d 890, 893 (Ala. 2000) (quoting in turn Insurance Mgmt. & Admin., Inc. v. Palomar Ins. Corp., 590 So. 2d 209, 212 (Ala. 1991))).

The Act "places upon the trial judge a wide discretion; and, in determining whether a service [member] is entitled to relief, each case must stand upon its own merits." Brown Serv. Ins. Co. v. King, 247 Ala. 311, 315, 24 So. 2d 219, 222 (1945). The trial court's denial of Klaeser's motion to set aside the default judgment because it was entered in contravention of the provisions of the Act will be reversed only if the trial court exceeded that discretion. See, e.g., Riley v. State ex rel. White, 563 So. 2d 1039, 1040 (Ala. Civ. App. 1990).


Klaeser argues that the trial court erred when it denied her Rule 60(b) (4) motion because, she says, the child was not of suitable age and discretion to accept substituted service

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of process for Klaeser.3 Thus, Klaeser argues that service of process was insufficient, rendering the judgment void for lack of personal jurisdiction.

A defense alleging a lack of personal jurisdiction because of insufficiency of service of process, however, can be waived if the defendant submits himself or herself to the jurisdiction of the trial court. See Rule 12(h)(1), Ala. R. Civ. P. (providing that a defense of insufficiency of service of process is waived if it is not included in a Rule 12 motion, a responsive pleading, or an amended responsive pleading). In this case, Klaeser did not file any responsive pleadings to Milton's petition before the trial court entered its default judgment. However, after the default judgment, Klaeser filed a "contest" challenging the amount of income withholding ordered by that judgment. The trial court held a hearing on her "contest," at which Klaeser's attorney appeared. Klaeser did not raise the issue whether process was

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insufficient in her letter contesting the amount of the income withholding, nor did her attorney raise the issue when he appeared at the hearing.

In Kingvision Pay-Per-View, Ltd. v. Ayers, 886 So. 2d 45, 53 (Ala. 2003), the Alabama Supreme Court quoted approvingly from Lonning v. Lonning, 199 N.W.2d 60, 62 (Iowa 1972), for the proposition that:

"`The rules which govern our consideration of this case are well established. The filing of a pleading is a general appearance. Rule 65(c), Rules of Civil Procedure. Jurisdiction of the person in a civil case may be acquired by service of notice in the manner and form prescribed by law, or by defendant's general appearance. Boyer v. Iowa High School Athletic Association, 258 Iowa...

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