Order Granting or Denying Motion to Compel Arbitration Appealable As a Final Judgment; Rule 54(b) Certifications Reviewed for Abuse of Discretion

Lightning Fair, Inc. v. Rosenberg makes clear that an order granting or denying a motion to compel arbitration is appealed in the same way as any other final order.  In addition, it states the standard by which the Alabama Supreme Court reviews a trial court’s Rule 54(b) certification. 

Although the underlying case has somewhat of a complicated procedural posture and history, there are two plain points of Lightning Fair of interest to our blog readers: (1) an order granting or denying a motion to compel arbitration is to be appealed in the same way as any other final order; and (2) a trial court’s Rule 54(b) certification for an interlocutory appeal does not ensure that an appeal will lie; the certification is subject to review for an abuse of discretion.  

Regarding an order compelling arbitration, Rule 4(d) of the Alabama Rules of Appellate Procedure controls.  It provides:

An order granting or denying a motion to compel arbitration is appealable as a matter of right, and any appeal from such an order must be taken within 42 days (6 weeks) of the date of the entry of the order, or within the time allowed by an extension pursuant to Rule 77(d) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure.  

Because the trial court’s order granting the motion to compel arbitration was entered on June 16, 2009, and the notice of appeal was not filed until May 4, 2010, it was untimely and the Alabama Supreme Court was without jurisdiction to review it.    

A non-arbitration order was also presented for interlocutory review pursuant to Rule 54(b).  The court stated that if a trial court certifies a judgment as final pursuant to Rule 54(b), an appeal will generaly lie.  It continued, however, as quoted below:

Although the order made the basis of the Rule 54(b) certification disposes of the entire claim against against [the defendant in this case], thus satisifying the requirements of Rule 54(b) dealing with eligibility for consideration as a final judgment, there remains the additional requirement that there be no just reason for delay.  A trial court’s conclusion to that effect is subject to review by this Court to determine whether the trial court exceeded its discretion in so concluding. 

The court further pointed out that Rule 54(b) certifications are disfavored and, in reviewing Rule 54(b) certifications, it considers whether "the issues in the claim being certified and a claim that will remain pending in the trial court are so closely intertwined that separate adjudication would pose an unreasonable risk of inconsistent results."  The court also noted with approval that several United States Courts of Appeals also consider whether the resolution of claims that remain pending in the trial court may moot claims presented on appeal.