Rule 54(b) Certification Ineffective; Worker’s Comp Appeal Dismissed

The Court of Civil Appeals dismissed an appeal in a worker’s comp case, holding that the trial court’s rule 54(b) certification was ineffective because it did not dispose of an entire claim in the case. SCI Alabama Funeral Services, Inc. v. Hester, No. 2060260 (Ala. Civ. App. Nov. 30, 2007).

The trial court found that the employee could recover worker’s comp benefits, but the court did not determine the amount of compensation to which the employee was entitled (nor did the trial court’s order contain conclusions of law as required by Ala. Code §25-5-88)Nevertheless, pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, the trial court certified as final for purposes of appeal its order regarding liability. The Court of Civil Appeals explained that an improper Rule 54(b) certification cannot convey jurisdiction over an issue that otherwise is not ripe for appeal. Rule 54(b) permits certification of an order that disposes of an entire claim or resolves all claims as to one of many parties. In the absence of a finding regarding the amount of compensation to which the employee was entitled, the order at issue did not resolve an entire claim, so the trial court was without authority to certify the order for review pursuant to Rule 54(b). “’A claim is not eligible for Rule 54(b) certification unless it has been completely resolved by the judgment. [In] that regard, it must be remembered that ‘damages are [an element] of a claim to vindicate a right.’ Grantham v. Vanderzyl, 802 So. 2d 1077, 1080 (Ala. 2001).’” (quoting Dzwonkowski v. Sonitrol of Mobile, Inc., 892 So. 2d 354, 361 (Ala. 2004)).