September 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

When is a judgment entered?

It’s an important question to ponder because some drop-dead deadlines start ticking away on entry of a judgment. MRCP 59 and 60 are two rules that have those kinds of provisions. MRAP 4(a) says that the notice of appeal to the MSSC must be filed ” … within 30 days after the date of entry of the judgment or ordered appealed from.” There are other rules with similar deadlines tied to entry of the judgment.

The last sentence of MRCP 58 says “A judgment shall be effective only when entered as provided in MRCP 79(a).”

MRCP 79(a) directs that the chancery clerk shall keep a General Docket in which shall be recorded all papers filed with the clerk, all process issued and returns, appearances, orders, judgments. Each entry is to show the date the entry is made.

In the case of Univ. of So. Miss. v. Gillis, 872 So.2d 60, 63 (Miss.App. 2003), the court held that a judgment becomes effective on the date it is entered on the docket.

When that judgment is entered can have a big effect on when your clock starts ticking for post-trial and appellate proceedings.

So here is my opinion about what are not final judgments:

  • A document styled Final Judgment that has been file-stamped by the clerk, but is not entered on the docket.
  • A document signed by the judge but not docketed.
  • Even if the judge endorses the judgment “filed,” per MRCP 5(e), it is still not effective until entered on the docket by the clerk. MRCP 5(e) allows the judge to endorse a pleading or other document “filed,” but I believe that is only an effective date as to the filing of a pleading. It does not make a judgment effective because there is no entry on the General Docket. To me, the judge’s endorsement has no more effect than the clerk’s file stamp. It shows when it was received by the clerk, but does not render the judgment effective.    
  • If the judge renders an order or judgment from the bench and signs it, it is still not effective until docketed. It is the act of docketing that makes the judgment final and effective.

Of course, a decision or opinion is not the same thing as a judgment. There is case law that says that the court’s bench opinion does not have the finality of a judgment. Banks v. Banks, 511 So.2d 933, 935 (Miss. 1987); Hinson v. Hinson, 877 So.2d 547, 548 (Miss.App. 2004).

On a related point, in 2004, Rule 58 was amended to add the language that even if a final judgment is improperly titled, unless prejudice can be shown, it will be afforded the effect of a final judgment if its language clearly indicates it is so. The amendment effectively overrules a line of Mississippi Supreme Court cases that held that if a court order did not include the word “judgment,” it would not be treated as one even where no prejudice could be shown: Thompson v. City of Vicksburg, 813 So.2d 717 (Miss.2002); Mullen v. Green Tree Financial Corp., 730 So.2d 9 (Miss.1998); and Roberts v. Grafe Auto Co., Inc., 653 So.2d 250 (Miss.1994).

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