When a decision is ripe for consideration by an appellate court, the decision is called appealable. A decision is appealable when it is procedurally ready for appeal. A decision is considered reviewable when the question is fit for the appellate court’s consideration.
Generally, a final decision is only appealable. This is the final judgment rule. Interlocutory orders are not appealable because if appeals are allowed from interlocutory orders, it will result in a very lengthy trial proceedings and excessive unwanted appellate proceedings. However, an interlocutory order can be appealed if a trial court’s decision causes irreparable harm to a party to the case during the pendency of the lawsuit and it affects the substantial rights of the person.[i]
A final decision is reached when the litigation is terminated on the merits and execution of the judgment is the last step. A case is not considered final when the substantial rights of the parties are left unresolved. When a matter is retained for further deliberation, it will not be considered final.
A judgment should abide by the formal requirements set for a judgment to be considered as final. However, even if an judgment does not strictly comply with the formal requirements of finality, it can be appealable if the litigants under bonafide belief regarded the judgment as final and proceeded with appeal accordingly.[ii]
A judgment should be written and duly signed by the judge. An oral announcement of the judgment does not render it final.[iii] The judgment should be entered to render it final. The judgment should contain a formal statement expressing the intent to terminate the case.[iv]
Under certain circumstances, exceptions to the final judgment rule apply. If a ministerial act is only thing required to implement a judgment, the judgment need not be considered non-final. According to the collateral order doctrine, interlocutory orders can be appealed because the order relates to a material issue in question which is separable from the main issue.[v] In a criminal case, the collateral order doctrine can be used as the basis for an interlocutory order appeal when:
- a disputed question is conclusively determined,
- an issue completely separate from the merits of the action is resolved, and
- the order is not reviewable on appeal from the final judgment.[vi]
The death knell doctrine provides that if a trial court order is not reviewed and that will result in the death knell of the action, then review can be allowed. According to the doctrine, an appeal of an interlocutory order can be permitted where substantial rights of a party will be irreparably lost if appeal is delayed until final judgment.
A consolidation order is an interlocutory order which is appealable under the collateral order doctrine. If an interlocutory order granting consolidation goes beyond requiring the parties to join in common discovery and preparation, constitutes an order denying a party’s rights to prosecute his/her own separate claims without having them so merged into the claims of others, and results in irreparable injury to the party, the order can be appealable.[vii]
Severance or separate trial orders in state civil cases are not appealable until the final decree is not reached. An injunction order, which is generally not appealable until final decision, can be appealed if a statute allows review of the order.
The denial of a judge to disqualify himself/herself is an interlocutory order and not appealable. Similarly, a non-final order disqualifying or refusing to disqualify a law firm is not appealable. However, an order disqualifying a law firm from continuing its representation in an appeal which represented the defendant during the trial because an attorney who represented the plaintiff joined the firm is a final and appealable order.
When a state civil action is dismissed, the order is final and an appealable judgment. In federal court, when a civil action is dismissed with prejudice, it is final and appealable. When a complaint is dismissed without prejudice, the order is not considered final and considered not appealable. In such cases, a plaintiff can cure the deficiency and refile the complaint.
Generally, a judgment by default is appealable like any other judgment if it meets the general requirements of appealability. However, an order denying a motion for a default judgment is not appealable. A consent judgment is a settlement reached by the parties. It is not the judgment of a court and is not reviewable because it is in the form of a contract. On the other hand, if the judgment is against public interest or lacks actual consent of the parties, it is appealable.
Regarding divorce cases, the right to a remedy is in the nature of an appeal. Appellate proceedings can be initiated when a divorce case has reached finality.[viii] However, orders regarding custody of child, alimony, and maintenance are appealable as they are not an essential part of a divorce. The collateral order doctrine applies in such cases. Such orders can be severed from a judgment of divorce because an appeal from these orders will not disturb the divorce proceeding in the trial court.[ix]
[i] Craig v. Asheville City Bd. of Educ., 142 N.C. App. 518 (N.C. Ct. App. 2001)
[ii] Sharkey v. Stamford, 196 Conn. 253 (Conn. 1985)
[iii] Florida Citrus Com. v. Griffin, 249 So. 2d 42 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2d Dist. 1971)
[iv] Educational Clinic, Inc. v. Fitzpatrick, 1990 Ohio App. LEXIS 4449 (Ohio Ct. App., Franklin County Oct. 9, 1990)
[v] Manns v. Smith, 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 368 (4th Cir. W. Va. Jan. 12, 2000)
[vi] Ford Motor Credit Co. v. Ferrell, 188 Md. App. 704 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2009)
[vii] Hallie Mgmt. Co. v. Perry, 272 Neb. 81 (Neb. 2006)
[viii] Aloe Vera of America, Inc. v. Cic Cosmetics International Corp., 517 S.W.2d 433 (Tex. Civ. App. Dallas 1974)
[ix] Elliott v. Elliott, 135 Mo. App. 42 (Mo. Ct. App. 1909)