Court Infers Final Judgment on Counterclaim in Ore Tenus Proceeding

Ordinarily, an appellate court lacks jurisdiction if the order from which a party appeals is not a final order.  In Kennedy v. Boles Investment, Inc., No.1080607 (Ala. March 12, 2010), the Alabama Supreme Court found that under the unusual circumstances of that ore tenus proceeding, the Court had jurisdiction over the appeal even though the trial court did not expressly dispose of all of the claims and counterclaims in the order at issue.

 

The Alabama Supreme Court explained:

Kennedy initially argues that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over this appeal because, he says, the November 3, 2008, order is not a final judgment.  This Court has routinely defined a final judgment as ‘an order ‘that conclusively determines the issues before the court and ascertains and declares the rights of the parties involved.’  Lunceford v. Monumental Life Ins. Co.,641 So. 2d 244, 246 (Ala. 1994). Kennedy contends that the November 3, 2008, order fails to conclusively determine all the issues before the trial court because, he says, the order fails to dispose of his claims asserting that BI breached the promissory note and that Boles breached his personal guaranty to pay BI’s obligation under the note.

We conclude that the November 3, 2008, order adjudicated all pending claims and that it conclusively determined all the issues before the trial court. The trial court’s judgment that ‘all interest payments in the Clerk’s office … [are] hereby awarded to [BI and Boles]’ is an implicit denial of Kennedy’s claims that BI breached the promissory note and that Boles breached his personal guaranty to pay BI ‘ s obligation under the note. The terms of the promissory note provide that BI’s interest-payment obligation would terminate upon payment of the principal. Accordingly, the trial court’s return of the interest payments to BI and Boles demonstrates that the trial court found that BI and Boles properly tendered prepayment of the note and that that tender terminated BI’s interest-payment obligation. If BI properly tendered prepayment, BI did not breach the note and Boles did not breach his guaranty to pay BI’s obligation on the note.

The trial court’s general award to BI and Boles of $3.65 million plus court costs is an implicit resolution of all BI and Boles’s counterclaims. A trial court is not required provide a precise calculation for its damages award following ore tenus proceedings, and, in this case, the trial court’s failure to attribute the money damages to a particular counterclaim does not affect the finality of the judgment. An appellate court may attribute a general-liability award resulting from an ore tenus proceeding to any count that is supported by the evidence, and, as discussed below, we conclude that the trial court’s $3.65 million judgment is supported by BI and Boles ‘ s breach-of-contract counterclaim.  Because the $3.65 million judgment is supported by BI and Boles’s breach-of-contract counterclaim, we infer the denial of BI and Boles’s remaining counterclaims. Alabama law is settled that, in the absence of an order severing a claim or ordering a separate trial, "[a] judgment will be deemed a final judgment on all issues pleaded and any claims which are not specifically disposed of in the judgment will be deemed to have been rejected or denied." Poston v. Gaddis, 372 So. 2d 1099, 1101 (Ala. 1979). From all that appears in the record, BI and Boles’s counterclaims were tried during the bench trial and no party to the proceeding sought a separate proceeding for any counterclaim.  The November 3, 2008, order is a final judgment.

Kennedy (some internal citations omitted).