M.H.-J. v. In the Matter of: P.H.-J., Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, Oct. 23, 2020
Sometimes, the outcome of a case can be determined by the smallest of issues. In the case of M.H.-J.’s dependency petition, that small issue was her brother’s age.
M.H.-J. originally filed a petition in the Morgan Juvenile Court for her brother, P.H.-J., to be declared dependent towards the end of May 2020. At the time of filing, P.H.-J. was 18 years old and set to turn 19 years old on June 1st, 2020. M.H-J. submitted a brief in support of her position that the juvenile court had jurisdiction over the petition, but the juvenile court ultimately determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed the petition.
M.H.-J. appealed to Court of Civil Appeals which, after considering the evidence, noted the following: though M.H.-J. submitted her petition before her brother was old enough to be declared a legal adult, in a previous case, the Court of Civil Appeals resolved that “a person who is 18 years old or older cannot be declared a dependent child.” That previous case, A.C. v. In re E.C.N., 89 So. 3d 777, 779 (Ala. Civ. App. 2012), stated that for a child to be determined as a dependent child, they must first meet the definition of the term ‘child’ which is defined in § 12–15–102(3) as “an individual under the age of 18 years, or under 21 years of age and before the juvenile court for a delinquency matter arising before that individual’s 18th birthday….” Therefore, the juvenile court did not have jurisdiction over P.H.-J. as he did not meet the requirements necessary to be considered a child. The Court of Civil Appeals thus affirmed the juvenile court’s dismissal of M.H.-J.’s dependency petition.
The M.J.-J. case teaches us that it is important to know the statutory definitions and requirements for the juvenile court to take authority over a case. While, as a general matter, we think of someone 18 or 19 years old as a juvenile, the Juvenile Courts have power only over individuals under the age of 18. We must follow the statutory definitions of these terms, rather than our own colloquial uses.
John Forrest is our legal assistant and was born and raised in Montgomery, AL and is attending Auburn University at Montgomery. He is an exercise science major with a minor in Strength & Conditioning. John is a recent convert to Christianity and is excited to grow more in godliness and holiness.
He hopes to attend law school after he graduates so that he may become an attorney and become an ambassador for Christ in the courtroom.