Claims “Too Intertwined” For 54(b) Certification

Counterclaims could not be certified as final under Rule 54(b), and thus made appealable, where the circuit court had not yet resolved the plaintiff’s “closely intertwined” claims. The 54(b) certification was held improper and the appeal dismissed. Gregory v. Ferguson, No. 2070576 (Ala. Civ. App. Dec. 5, 2008).

A home builder sued a property owner over a residential construction contract. The builder claimed that the owner had terminated the parties’ contract and informed state regulators that the builder was not licensed. The builder pressed claims for breach of contract, quantum meruit, fraud, and intentional interference with business and contractual relations. The property owner counterclaimed. He argued that the builder had falsely represented that he was licensed, failed to pay subcontractors, and improperly filed a lien against the owner’s house.

The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the owner on his counterclaims. The court certified this judgment as final under Rule 54(b) and the builder appealed.

The Court of Civil Appeals ruled on its own motion that the Rule 54(b) certification should not have been made. The court explained:

Certifications of finality pursuant to Rule 54(b) of an otherwise interlocutory order should not be routinely entered and should be made only in exceptional cases. . . . When pending claims are so closely intertwined that separate adjudication would pose an unreasonable risk of inconsistent results, our courts may determine a Rule 54(b) certification to be invalid.

(Quotation and citations omitted).

The opposing claims in this case were “too closely intertwined” to be resolved separately and certified for piecemeal appeal under Rule 54(b). The parties’ claims both raised “the issue of the interpretation and the proper enforcement of their contract.” “Thus, the . . . claims [were] dependent on each other and a resolution of one claim would impact the determination of the other.” (Quotation omitted).

The appellate court ruled the Rule 54(b) certification improper and dismissed the appeal as taken from a non-final judgment.