Yet Another Interment in the MRCP 54(b) Graveyard

November 13, 2013 § 5 Comments

The newest appeal to be interred in the MRCP 54(b) graveyard is In re Heirship of Gardner: Young, et al v. Pollion, et al., decided by the COA on November 5, 2013.

The petitioners sought to reopen the estate of Albert Gardner, who died in 1924, to determine his heirs. At stake were claims of the petitioners to oil, gas, and mineral royalties. The claimants were putative children of Albert Clayborne, a descendent of Albert Gardner, who died in 1998 with no adjudication of his heirship until the instant action.

The chancellor heard proof and rendered a 50-page opinion adjudicating certain persons to be heirs, and denying claims of others.

Here’s what Judge Fair’s opinion said on this now-utterly-familiar topic:

¶8. Under Rule 54(b), a trial judge “may direct the entry of a final judgment as to one or more but fewer than all of the claims or parties” in an action. M.R.C.P. 54(b). But the judge may do so “only upon an expressed determination that there is no just reason for delay and upon an expressed direction for the entry of the judgment.” Id. And absent a Rule 54(b) certification, any judgment – regardless of how designated – is not final if it “adjudicates fewer than all of the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties.” Id.; see also M.R.C.P. 54(b) cmt.

¶9. Rule 54(b) does not require that a judgment be entered when the court disposes of one or more claims or terminates the action as to one or more parties. “Rather, it gives the court discretion to enter a final judgment in these circumstances and it provides much needed certainty in determining when a final and appealable judgment has been entered. If the court chooses to enter such a final order, it must do so in a definite, unmistakable manner.” M.R.C.P. 54(b) cmt. Here, the chancellor did not indicate that the order was a final judgment or provide any Rule 54(b) certification. The fifty-page order contains many gaps regarding Albert Gardner’s descendants and their spouses, as recognized by the chancellor:

IT IS, FURTHER, ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the aforementioned determination of heirs are subject to any spouse who survived said heirs who was not made a party to this litigation.

Whether Albert Clayborne’s mother and his grandfather survived their spouses is undetermined in the order. Further, the record shows that the order appealed from has been amended since the Appellants filed their appeal with this Court. We therefore conclude that these heirship proceedings are not final, even as to the Appellants, as they are still subject to further changes and amendments.

¶10. Without a certification under Rule 54(b), “any order in a multiple party or multiple claim action, even if it appears to adjudicate a separable portion of the controversy, is interlocutory.” M.R.C.P. 54(b) cmt; see also Owens v. Nasco Int’l., Inc., 744 So. 2d 772, 774 (¶8) (Miss. 1999). Further, the Appellants neither sought nor received permission under Rule 5 of the Mississippi Rules of Appellate Procedure to proceed with an interlocutory appeal of this nonfinal judgment. An appellate court, on its own initiative, may dismiss an appeal for the absence of a Rule 54(b) certification. Miller v. R.B. Wall Oil, Co., Inc., 850 So. 2d 101, 103 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2002). Therefore, we dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

R.I.P. yet another appeal.

Every time I see one of these cases, I think that I am seeing the very last in a long line of dead appeals. Yet, the supply appears to be unendless. We need a bigger graveyard.

 

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