Timeliness of appeal and CR 54.02: WATSON V. BEST FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC. (SC 1/24/2008)

WATSON V. BEST FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC.
APPEALS:  CR 54.02 (NOT ALL CLAIMS)
2006-SC-000393-DG.pdf
PUBLISHED: AFFIRMING
OPINION BY: MINTON (SCHRODER NOT SITTING; ABRAMSON CONCURS IN RESULT ONLY)
DATE RENDERED: 01/24/2008

Watson sued BEST FINANCIAL (BF), and after some litigation, the trial court entered a partial summary judgment in favor of BF. Later, the parties entered an agreed judgment disposing of Watson’s last remaining claim, and the trial court made this order final and appealable via CR 54.02, despite BF having an outstanding counterclaim. Watson’s counsel did not file an appeal within thirty days, and when he attempted to do so some six months after the date of the order, BF moved the COA to dismiss the appeal. The COA did dismiss the appeal as untimely, and this case followed.

The case discusses the history and purposes of CR 54.02, but the meat of the opinion is this: a trial judge can grant a final judgment on less than all claims when more than one claim for relief is presented in an action, even when the remaining claim is a counterclaim. The reviewing court’s standard will be whether the trial court rendered a final adjudication on one or more claim in litigation, and, if so, whether such was an abuse of discretion. Trial courts are reminded that requests for CR 54.02 certification are not to be granted routinely or as favors to counsel, but must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis; for this reason, the SC is loathe to established fixed guidelines for the courts to follow in making their determinations. Finally, a word of warning: Watson argued his counsel never received the court’s CR 54.02 order, as he had not yet been substituted in, and Watson’s former counsel was given the order. The SC noted that while it sympathized with Watson’s counsel’s position (having entered the case after entry of final judgment under CR 54.02), all counsel have to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing clients. Part of those duties includes reviewing the court record. So look at those files, friends and neighbors, and remember: you ignore the CR 73.02 thirty-day appeal limit at your own peril!

CHERRY GUARNIERI

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