Timely Appeal When Original Claims Are Dismissed & Amended Pleadings Are a Nullity
Maria Graham v. City of Talladega: Amended pleadings are a nullity if they do not comply with ARCP 15, and once the original claims are dismissed, a party has 42 days from the date of dismissal to file an appeal, pursuant to ARCP 4.
On June 3, 2015, Maria Graham sued the City of Talladega, alleging that she was wrongfully terminated. The matter was set for its first trial setting on September 8, 2015. A status conference was held on that date at which time the trial court ordered Graham to pay for and produce to the court by November 16, 2015, the transcript of a hearing held by the civil service board. Graham never produced the requested transcript.
On January 4, 2016, Graham filed an amended complaint without seeking leave of court to amend her pleadings. Because the case had been set for trial in September 2015, which time had already passed when she filed her amended complaint, Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) requires that Graham seek leave of court prior to filing an amended complaint.
On January 11, 2016, the trial court entered an order dismissing Graham’s original complaint due to her failure to comply with the court’s order by not producing the records requested by the court. In that order, the trial court mentioned the amended complaint and ordered the City to respond to it. The City responded, asking the trial court to disallow the amendment. A hearing was held, and the trial court entered an order dismissing the amended complaint on May 16, 2016. In June 2016, Graham appealed the dismissal of her claims to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Maria Graham v. City of Talladega [Ms. 2150803], — So.3d — (Ala.Civ.App. Oct. 26, 2016).
- Applicable caselaw: Image Marketing, Inc. v. Florence Television, L.L.C.
The Supreme Court of Alabama has held in Image Marketing, Inc. v. Florence Television, L.L.C., 884 So.2d 822 (Ala. 2003) that a party’s failure to seek leave of court before filing an amended complaint results in the amended complaint being a nullity. Id. at 826-27. If, however, the record indicates that the trial court would have been inclined to grant leave to amend had leave been sought, the failure to seek leave may be overlooked, causing the amended pleading to be operative. Id. at 826. On the other hand, if the record reflects that the trial court would not have been granted, the amendment remains a nullity. Id. at 826.
The Alabama Supreme Court in Image Marketing further determined that because the amended pleading is a nullity, once the original claims are dismissed, the party has 42 days from the date the dismissal order is entered to file her appeal, pursuant to Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 4.
Whether the trial court in the present case would have granted Graham leave to amend her complaint, had leave been requested.
The trial court acknowledged Graham’s amended complaint in its order dismissing her original complaint and directing the City of Talladega to respond to amended pleading that Graham filed. The appellate court found that mere acknowledgment of the filing of the amended pleading was not sufficient to determine who the trial court would have responded had Graham sought leave to file it. In fact, the trial court ultimately granted the City’s motion to disallow the amended complaint, allowing the appellate court to infer that the trial court would not have granted leave to amend her complaint. Therefore, at the time it was filed, Graham’s amended complaint was a nullity.
The order dismissing Graham’s original complaint was entered on January 11, 2016. Graham then had 42 days from that date to appeal. Graham did not file her appeal until June 2016, which was well beyond the 42-day period. Under the Alabama Supreme Court’s reasoning in Image Marketing, the untimely appeal was due to be dismissed. As such, Graham’s appeal was dismissed.
Artwork by Sean MacEntee.