Failure to dispose of counterclaims defeats finality of judgment

In Posey v. Mollohan, [Ms. 2060500] (Ala. Civ. App. March 21, 2008), the Court of Civil Appeals dismissed an appeal of a judgment for lack of jurisdiction due to the presence of pending counterclaims and defenses which sought affirmative relief. 

The parties to this case had a bench trial regarding the possession of two Tennessee Walking Horses.  One of the defenses raised to the suit was that the defendant was justified in retaining the horses pursuant to a statutory lien.  Further, the defendant raised other counterclaims.

After a bench trial, the trial court found in favor of the plaintiff.  However, the judgment did not address the counterclaims.  Therefore, the judgment was not final, and the appeal had to be dismissed.

Interestingly, not all the pending counterclaims impacted the finality of judgment.  The defendant filed a counterclaim asserting defamation.  However, at trial, the defendant put forth no evidence at trial in support of the claim.  The court cited precedent holding that the presence of claims for which no argument or evidence is presented does not prevent the finality of judgment on the disposed claims.

The court found that the remaining counterclaims were intertwined with the judgment at issue.  Therefore, the court could not simply remand the order for Rule 54(b) certification and, instead, was required to dismiss the appeal.