There are ways a party can receive review by the appellate court before a final judgment, but those circumstances are rare.
Court cases are long. Proceedings can take months or years. Courts make many small decisions before entering a final judgment. Parties who are dissatisfied with those decisions usually have to wait until the end of the case to seek review by an appeals court. In limited circumstances, however, they may get appellate court attention by filing a petition with the appeals court for “a writ of mandamus” – an order from the higher court directing the lower court to do something that the lower court had a duty to do. A recent case from the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, Ex parte Reginald Jones, No. 2200442, released April 30, 2021, demonstrates the importance of giving attention to two of the requirements for a writ of mandamus: a clear legal right to relief and a lack of “another adequate remedy.”
On November 24, 2015, Faith Jones (“the wife”) filed for divorce from Reginald Jones (“the Husband”) in the Shelby Circuit Court. The husband claimed that, after various delays but before the hearing set for the matter, the parties had reached a settlement agreement. On October 15, 2020, the trial court entered a judgment which generally matched the parties’ agreement. On November 13, 2020, however, the wife asked the trial court to alter, amend, or vacate the divorce judgment. She argued, mainly, that the marital residence should have been awarded to her.
The husband argued that the judgment based on the parties’ agreement should stand. He reasoned that the wife had agreed to the settlement agreement and that the judge used the proposed order submitted by her attorney. The husband also asked the trial court to clarify various matters related to alimony and child support.
The trial court entered an order setting aside the divorce judgment and set a trial for May 21, 2021. The husband filed his petition for a writ of mandamus on March 19, 2021, asking the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals to review the trial court’s setting aside of the divorce judgment. The appeals court can only issue a writ of mandamus when there is: “‘(1) a clear legal right in the petitioner to the order sought; (2) an imperative duty upon the respondent to perform, accompanied by a refusal to do so; (3) the lack of another adequate remedy; and (4) properly invoked jurisdiction of the court.’ Ex parte Alfab, Inc., 586 So. 2d 889, 891 (Ala. 1991).” Jones, at *10. The Court of Civil Appeals found that the husband had not met these requirements.
The appellate court explained that the husband did not actually say why his challenge to the trial court’s setting aside the divorce judgment was appropriate for mandamus review. The appellate court compared the case to one where a party simply does not want to move ahead to a final judgment, but has no real legal right to immediate review. The court cited Ex parte Sanderson, 263 So. 3d 681, 688 (Ala. 2018), which says that “the drastic and extraordinary remedy of a writ of mandamus is not available merely to alleviate the inconvenience and expense of litigation for a defendant whose motion to dismiss or motion for a summary judgment has been denied.” This conclusion is closely related to the requirement that the husband have a “clear legal right” to the writ of mandamus. Parties in domestic cases generally don’t have the right to be free of the court processes toward final judgment.
The appeals court also said the husband had failed to show that he did not have an adequate legal remedy by way of appeal after a final judgment. Presumably, then, the court felt that he could argue the equity of the wife’s new arguments and the efficacy of the parties’ agreement after a new final judgment were entered.
The Jones case shows the limited nature of the circumstances that truly call for a writ of mandamus. Specifically, this case highlights the significance of the earlier Sanderson decision, and it’s holding that a writ of mandamus is not a means to rid oneself of the inconvenience of litigating a matter when a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment is denied, and that an appeal is an adequate remedy for this issue.
From this case, we can learn that the appeals courts will closely examine a petition to see if it satisfies the requirements for a writ of mandamus. Especially where it appears that the party has a means of review after final judgment, and is seeking to cut short the trial court’s proceedings. A petition for a writ of mandamus should expressly address each of the requirements for mandamus, as well as the merits of the party’s arguments.
Brennan DePace was born and raised as a pastor’s child and has carried with him the strong Biblical values passed on from his father. DePace is the youngest of five children who received a rigorous and thorough home-schooled education. He is now a Junior at Auburn University at Montgomery studying History, with the hopes of attending law school and becoming an attorney. DePace serves as Legal Assistant to the Hon. Samuel J. McLure of The Adoption Law Firm.