A LESS-THAN-FINAL JUDGMENT

July 6, 2011 § 3 Comments

It sometimes happens that the chancellor grants some of the relief requested, saying in effect, “That’s all I’m going to do,” and directs entry of a final judgment.  It happens, for instance, where one party asks for an award of attorney’s fees and the court does not want to grant it, or where one party in a divorce wants the living room furniture that the other party has and the judge leaves things as they are. You can conjure up some similar scenarios.

The question is: when the judge does that, is there a final, appealable judgment?

The COA addressed what is not a final, appealable judgment in two recent decisions handed down the same day.

In Jackson v. Lowe, decided June 28, 2011, the COA answered the question by reference to MRCP 54(b), which states:

When more than one claim for relief is presented in an action, whether as a claim, counter-claim, cross-claim, or third-party claim, or when multiple parties are involved, the court may direct the entry of a final judgment 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 the entry of the judgment. In the absence of such determination and direction, any order or other form of decision, however designated which adjudicates fewer than all of the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties shall not terminate the action as to any of the claims or parties and the order or other form of decision is subject to revision at any time before the entry of judgment adjudicating all the claims and the rights and liabilities of all the parties.

In Jackson, the court held that since the chacellor’s decision did not address several issues and did not certify that it was a final judgment as to the issues adjudicated, it was an interlocutory judgment that was not appealable, and until the parties saw to it that all issues had been addressed, there was no jurisdiction for an appeal. 

A similar result was reached in S.E.B. v. R.E.B. decided June 28, 2011, in which the chancellor flatly refused to adjudicate alimony and child support.

What the COA is telling you is that unless the trial court’s judgment addresses every claim, or unless you have a Rule 54(b) certificate from the trial judge, you are going nowhere on appeal until you do.

I posted here about some of the nuances of Rule 54(b), and you might want to take a look at the post again.

I have almost always included a paragraph in my judgments that states to the effect that “The court has considered all other issues and prayers for relief asserted by the parties and finds that they should be denied and no further relief granted.” I do not know whether that will suffice as an adjudication, and after the S.E.B. decision, I’m not so sure; no one has ever raised the issue. Of course, I use that only for miscellaneous issues that do not have trial factors because failure to address applicable trial factors is reversible error. I also have included a Rule 52(b) certificate in appropriate cases.

Moral of the story: If you are not satisfied that the chancellor has met the requirements of Rule 52(b), be sure to file the proper motion for a certificate, and do it timely. If you are outside the 10-day requirement of Rule 59, you might want to file a motion to set the remaining issues for trial. Yes, this will likely steam up your judge, who probably figured your case was concluded, but just smile and show her a copy of Jackson v. Lowe, and maybe everything will be all right.      

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