Filing a lawsuit can feel intimidating and difficult. Even more so, navigating how to file an appeal after you lose a case can seem incredibly confusing.
Recently, in Marshall County, in Alabama Medicaid Agency v. Brooks, the Court of Civil Appeals addressed whether an electronically filed “complaint” was enough to properly appeal a probate action. Health Management Systems, working on behalf of the Alabama Medicaid Agency, filed a claim in probate court against the estate of Melissa Driver for $44,978.10.
In June 2016, the probate court denied Medicaid’s claim. In July 2017, Medicaid electronically filed a document in circuit court entitled, “The Alabama Medicaid Agency’s Appeal from the Marshall County Probate Court’s Order on Contest of Claim.” This document served to appeal to the circuit court for a brand-new trial. In September 2016, filed for an entry of default judgment. The circuit court clerk issued default judgment.
Two days later, the estate filed a motion to set aside the default and a motion to strike Medicaid’s appeal. In October 2016, the circuit court set aside the default, dismissing the appeal. The circuit court based its decision on the fact that Medicaid had electronically filed its appeal and notices of appeals cannot be electronically filed. The court reasoned it had no subject-matter jurisdiction. Medicaid appealed.
Under Alabama law, there is not a specific statute that governs the procedure for appealing a probate-court judgment to the circuit court. While Alabama law does say notices of appeal generally cannot be electronically filed, a party does not have to file a notice of appeal in order to appeal from the probate court to the circuit court. The Court of Civil Appeals reasoned that filing a complaint would be enough for an appeal. Unlike filing a notice of appeal, complaints may be filed electronically.
The Court of Civil Appeals took a broad look at Medicaid’s “The Alabama Medicaid Agency’s Appeal from the Marshall County Probate Court’s Order on Contest of Claim” in which it listed the executors of the estate as “respondents.” The Court considered this a complaint. Under this interpretation, the Court reversed the circuit court’s ruling, holding that the appeal was proper.
The main takeaway here is that procedure is essential to filing an appeal. Because there are not specific rules for moving from probate court to circuit court, the Court of Civil Appeals had more room for interpretation. This allowed the Court to interpret Medicaid’s document as a complaint, rather than a notice of appeal. As such, it could be electronically filed.
It is important to seek an experienced civil attorney who understands the realities of both Alabama civil and probate law. If you need a civil lawyer, contact INGRAM LAW LLC at 205-438-6666 for help with your case.