Voluntary Dismissal “Effective Automatically,” Leaves Nothing to Appeal

A voluntary dismissal left a would-be intervener with nothing to appeal from. Its motion to intervene was denied in action that was already “defunct”; and the appeal from that denial was consequently dismissed. Gallagher Basset Services, Inc. v. Phillips, No. 1070416 (Ala. Apr. 11, 2008).

The plaintiff was injured when she fell from a ladder while working. She collected workers’ compensation benefits, and eventually sued the treating physician for malpractice. Her employer, and its compensation carrier, both moved to intervene. Their motion was denied and the carrier appealed.

The Supreme Court of Alabama dismissed the appeal. The day before the employer and carrier moved to intervene, the plaintiff and physician had reached a settlement, and under Rule 41(a)(1), stipulated to a voluntary dismissal. The state’s high court explained that this dismissal was effective immediately and left nothing from which to appeal. “[T]here is no right of appeal,” the court wrote, “from the denial of a motion to intervene in a defunct action.” The court continued:

Rule 41(a)(1) affords the trial court no discretion. The entry of . . . a stipulation of dismissal is effective automatically and does not require judicial approval. The effect of a voluntary dismissal . . . is to render the proceedings a nullity and leave the parties as if the action had never been brought. . . .

Thus, . . . when [the carrier] filed its motion to intervene, there was no case in which [it] could intervene. The trial court thus lacked authority over [the carrier’s] motion, either to grant or deny it. It follows that its order denying [that] motion is void. Because a void order or judgment will not support an appeal, this appeal must be dismissed.

(Citations omitted) (emphases in Gallagher Basset).