Ex parte Norma Phillips Mealing
(In re: Norma Phillips Mealing v. Eugene Mealing, Jr.)
Ala. Court of Civil Appeals October 25, 2013
The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals unanimously upheld a divorce settlement despite the trial court's attempt to set aside. Norma Mealing consulted an Alabama divorce attorney to handle a divorce between her and her husband, Eugene Mealing, Jr. The Alabama divorce attorney counseled both the husband and wife on the details of their Alabama divorce and prepared the necessary settlement documents to file with the trial court.
Although both parties signed original documents, the Alabama divorce attorney filed copies with the trial court that contained electronic signatures. The trial court granted the divorce and entered an Alabama divorce order based on the documents containing electronic signatures.
Afterwards, the Husband consulted his own Alabama divorce attorney, and decided that he had been misrepresented in the original Alabama divorce order. He moved to have the Alabama divorce order set aside, but filed a Rule 59 motion one day after the deadline had passed. Thus the issue fell on the difference between relief from judgment under Rule 59, or Rule 60 of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, and the trial court's stated reasons for granting said motion.
The Husband alleged fraud and misrepresentation of his rights as a basis for setting aside the Alabama divorce order, and so, in theory, his Rule 59 motion could be considered as a Rule 60 motion. The problem arose in the trial court's findings as to why it set aside the Alabama divorce order, i.e. electronic signatures. The Husband admittedly signed the agreement, and never raised electronic signatures as a basis for setting aside his Alabama divorce order.
The Court of Civil Appeals found that "the parties negotiated the settlement agreement, the husband admittedly signed the settlement agreement, and then the husband belatedly sough legal advice about the settlement agreement, which resulted in his desire to withdraw his consent to the settlement agreement. To allow the husband to be relieved of his deliberate choice not to seek legal counsel before entering into the settlement agreement runs counter to well settled legal principals regarding Rule 60(b) relief." The trial court was unanimously ordered to vacate its order setting aside the original Alabama Divorce Order.