Recent decisions from the Supreme Court and Maine Law Court remind appellate jockeys of some important points when determining when a judgment is final and appealable.
Let’s start with Maine, and a decision about Rule 54 certification: Kittery Point Partners, LLC v. Bayview Loan Servicing, LLC, 2018 ME 35. This case involved one suit against three defendants. Two of the three defendants moved for summary judgment. The Superior Court (Douglas, J.) granted their motion, and in doing so said that the judgment was final as to the claims between the plaintiff and these two parties, and there was no just reason for delay in entering final judgment as to them. The plaintiff appealed.
Not so fast, said the SJC. A judgment isn’t final until all the claims against all the parties are decided. A trial court can certify appeal of a partial final judgment under Me. R. Civ. P. 54(b)(1) The Superior Court’s language seems to be giving that a go, since its ruling included language saying the judgment as to the two parties was final, and that there was no just reason for delay. But a recitation of generic boilerplate about no just reason for delay does not cut it under Rule 54. There need to be specific findings explaining the basis for the certification. So the appeal was dismissed.
This ruling creates no new law. But it’s a good reminder that Rule 54 certifications are not to be ordered willy nilly, and that there needs to be fact sensitive analysis included in the trial court’s grant. If you don’t get that in the trial court’s certification, then you’ve got to go back to that court and say, thanks for granting the certification, but please provide more findings and analysis, as required by the Rule. This is one of those situations where giving the trial court a draft order to sign takes on particular importance. (Even then, the Law Court can find it an abuse of discretion for the trial court to have issued the properly articulated certification.)
Next, let’s look at the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding Rule 42 consolidation in Hall v. Hall, Docket No. 16-1150 (U.S. March 27, 2018).
The question presented was: when multiple civil actions are consolidated under F.R.Civ.P. 42(a), and the trial court enters a judgment as to one (not all) of those consolidated actions, is that judgment immediately appealable, or must/can you wait to appeal until judgments have been entered in all the consolidated actions?
The answer is – you must appeal now.
So when there is one action with multiple parties, you must wait to appeal until everything is done, absent a properly supported and accepted Rule 54 certification. In contrast, when there are multiple, albeit consolidated actions, there’s no waiting, you must appeal as soon as you get the final judgment in the your action among the consolidated actions.
Notably, in answering the Rule 42 question, CJ Roberts, writing for the unanimous court, responded to an argument the party supporting the wait position made, comparing a consolidation to a marriage, pursuant to which the parties merge and become one. CJ Roberts said: “However dear to each other, spouses would be surprised to hear that their union extends beyond the metaphysical.”