Post-Judgment Motions and Rule 59.1

Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 59.1 states that if the judge makes no ruling on a post-judgment motion to alter, amend, or vacate within 90 days of its filing, the motion is deemed denied by operation of law (allowing an appeal). Each time the moton is amended, the 90 days starts again. So exactly what does it take to constitute an amendment? That’s the question the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals faced in Roden v. Roden, Case No. 2040796 (Ala. Civ. App. February 3, 2006).

The trial court divorced the parties on January 14, 2005. On February 4, both parties filed postjudgment motions pursuant to Rule 59(a). Then on February 8, the husband filed a motion that precisely duplicated his February 4 motion except that its margins were different. On May 6, 2005 (91 days after the first motions but 87 days after the husband’s second motion), after a hearing, the trial court purported to amend the divorce judgment. The wife appealed. Did the trial court have jurisdiction to change the divorce judgment?

The appeals court said no. It said that the husband’s second motion neither changed the grounds for the relief he requested nor asked for different relief. “Quite simply, the husband’s February 8, 2005, motion is an exact substantive duplicate of his February 4, 2005, motion.”

The appeals court quoted Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Cobb, 717 So. 2d 355, 356 (Ala. 1998): [It would be] “improper for a court to circumvent the Rules of Procedure in an attempt to artificially renew the period in which a party may appeal.”

The appeals court said that, because the trial court’s order was entered more than 90 days after the husband and wife filed their postjudgment motions, and because the husband’s second motion failed to extend the period, the trial court’s order purporting to amend its January 14 judgment was void and would not support an appeal. It therefore dismissed the wife’s appeal and ordered the trial court to vacate its May 6, 2005 order.

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