Party Cannot Appeal Judgment That Does Not Affect It Adversely

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department was not adversely affected by a decision of the county’s Personnel Board. Therefore, the Department could not appeal from that decision. The circuit court should have dismissed the Department’s appeal. Ex parte Jefferson County Sheriff’s Dept., No. 2070634 (Ala. Civ. App. Jan. 23, 2009).

The Sheriff’s Department fired one of its dispatchers, who then challenged her termination before the Personnel Board. The hearing officer recommended that the Board uphold the termination, but the Board declined to do so. The Department appealed to the circuit court, which affirmed the Board’s decision.

The Department then sought certiorari review in the Court of Civil Appeals. (The common-law writ of certiorari is the “proper method of reviewing circuit court decisions involving appeals from the Jefferson County Personnel Board.”) The appellate court ruled that the circuit court had erred; that the Board had effectively upheld the dispatcher’s termination; and that, consequently, there was no adverse judgment from which the Department could appeal. The Court of Civil Appeals’ decision came in two basic steps.

First, the court held that the Board had not acted in a timely manner in declining to adopt the hearing officer’s recommendation to uphold the firing. As a consequence, by operation of law, the hearing officer’s recommendation “bec[a]me the order of the Board.” The Department’s decision to fire the dispatcher, in other words, had effectively been upheld.

Second, this meant that the Board’s order was not adverse to the Department. Reaching an appellate rule of wider application, the Court of Civil Appeals explained:

A party may appeal only an adverse ruling contained in a final judgment. Where a judgment is in a party’s favor and there is nothing prejudicial in the judgment no appeal lies to the prevailing party. An appeal may be taken from a final judgment by either party . . . ; but, if there is nothing in the record prejudicial to the appellant, and the judgment is in his favor to the full extent claimed, there is nothing on which to predicate an appeal, and it is usual to dismiss it.

(Quotations and citation omitted.)

The Court of Civil Appeals vacated the order of the circuit court, and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the Department’s appeal.