October 7, 2010 § 4 Comments

After a few weeks, the judge has issued his opinion in that thorny divorce trial.  He granted your client’s wife a divorce and gave her custody and child support, but ordered that you and the other attorney produce appraisals before he will adjudicate the equitable distribution and the alimony claim.  Your client is hopping mad at the outcome and demands that you appeal the judge’s ruling immediately.  Can you?

MRCP 54(b) provides that the when there are multiple claims for relief or multiple parties, the court may order final relief as to one or more but fewer than all of the claims or parties “only upon an expressed determination that there is no just reason for delay and upon an expressed direction for entry of the judgment.”  If the court does not so direct, then any order issued that adjudicates fewer than all of the claims or rights of fewer than all of the parties, no matter whether it is entitled as a judgment, is not final, and is subject to revision at any time.

So what does this mean?  There are several ramifications.  One is that if the partial judgment or order does not specifically direct that it is final, you may not appeal from it until the entire action is finalized.  If it does include the required finality language and you do not file a timely appeal, you may find yourself shut out from an appeal on the matters addressed in that order.  Another ramification of non-finality is that the Chancellor may change it at any time, even beyond ten days after its date, because the provision of MRCP 59 that allows the Chancellor to alter his judgment within ten days of entry applies exclusively to final, appealable judgments.           

And what exactly is a judgment, anyway?  MRCP 54(a) states that “‘Judgment’ as used in these rules [MRCP] includes a final decree and any order from which an appeal lies.”  Any interlocutory adjudication is an order, and not a judgment; thus, e.g., Temporary Order, Order Compelling Discovery, Scheduling Order, Order Deeming Requests for Admission as Admitted.

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