Appeal from District Court Was Timely: “Posttrial” Rule 52 / 59 Motion Tolled Appellate Deadline

A timely “posttrial” motion in the district court was effectively made under Rule 52 or 59, and thus tolled the time for noticing an appeal. An appeal filed fourteen days after disposition of that motion was timely. Larkin v. Am. Western Ins. Co., No. 2060720 (Ala. Civ. App. Aug. 24, 2007).

The district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ case for failure to prosecute. Eleven days later, the plaintiffs filed a “Motion for Relief / Rehearing from Final Decision.” The court did not rule on this motion but did modify its previous dismissal order so that the dismissal was without prejudice. Fourteen days after this modification, the plaintiffs noticed an appeal to the circuit court.

The Court of Civil Appeals ruled that the appeal was timely. The court first recited the salient rules governing post-judgment motions in, and appeals from, the district courts. Under Ala. Code § 12-12-70(a): “Any party may appeal from a final judgment . . . by filing notice of appeal in the district court, within 14 days from the date of the judgment or the denial of a posttrial motion, whichever is later.” (Emphases removed.) “[P]ost-trial motions” under Rules 52 and 59 “must be filed within 14 days after the entry of judgment.” See Ala. R. Civ. P. 52(dc), 59(dc).

The plaintiffs’ appeal was timely under these standards. Their motion for “relief” or “rehearing” “directly attacked the district court’s judgment,” the Court of Civil Appeals decided. Moreover:

By seeking additional findings and by asserting that the district court lacked jurisdiction to rule as it did, the motion in effect sought an order vacating the district court’s judgment and entering a new judgment transferring the case to the circuit court — relief that is cognizable under Rules 52(b) and 59(e), Ala. R. Civ. P., as made applicable to district courts under Rules 52(dc) and 59(dc).

The court rejected the contention that the motion was effectively under Rule 60(b), which would not have extended the appellate deadline. While it was unclear whether the district court had ruled on the Rule 52(b) / 59(e) motion, or whether it had been denied by operation of law under Rule 59.1, the question was unimportant. In either case, the plaintiffs had noticed their appeal fourteen days after the earlier possible date, so that under § 12-12-70(a), their appeal to the circuit court was timely.

(The Court of Civil Appeals went on to apply an almost identical analysis to the plaintiffs’ subsequent appeal from the circuit court. This brief discussion involved Rule 4 of the appellate rules, under which certain post-judgment motions reset the deadline for taking an appeal. In short: “The plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal within 42 days of the circuit court’s order denying their postjudgment motion [under Ala. R. Civ. P. 59(e)], and thereby timely invoked . . . jurisdiction” in the Court of Civil Appeals.)