“Separated” Claim Did Not Yield Final Judgment

A trial court did not enter a final judgment by disposing of a claim that had been separated for trial under Rule 42(b) where another claim remained pending. Hamilton v. CSC Distribution, Inc., No. 2070813 (Ala. Civ. App. Dec. 5, 2008).

The plaintiff sued her employer for retaliatory discharge. She then amended her complaint to add the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations (ADIR) in order to appeal the agency’s denial of unemployment benefits. ADIR and the employer moved to sever the claims and to assign the benefits appeal a new case number. The trial court granted this motion by severing the claims “in part.” The court did not, however, assign the benefits appeal a new case number.

The trial court eventually granted ADIR summary judgment on the benefits claim, and the plaintiff appealed.

On its own motion, the Court of Civil Appeals held that it lacked appellate jurisdiction. Because the summary judgment had adjudicated only the benefits claim, while leaving the discharge claim pending, the judgment was not “final” and would not support an appeal. Because the lower court had not assigned a new case number to the benefits claim, it was “obvious” that court had “intended only to separate the claims for trial purposes.” The lower court, “under these circumstances,” had effected a “separation” under Rule 42(b) but not a “severance” under Rule 21. The appellate court concluded:

When a court merely orders separate trials, an adjudication of one claim, via a summary-judgment order, does not become a final judgment unless the order is properly certified as final pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P.

The trial court had not certified the judgment as final under Rule 54(b). The Court of Civil Appeals thus dismissed the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction.