On June 29, 2015, the HAWSCT issue an opinion in Zachary Fred Bailey v. Burrelle David Duvauchelle, Trustee Under Duvauchelle Family Trust U/D/T Dated August 14, 2008, SCWC-14-0000883, further clarifying its seminal decision in Jenkins and holding that a motion for reconsideration under HRCP 60(b) is only appealable if the judgment from which reconsideration is sought was itself a final appealable judgment.
As a reminder, in general, the Jenkins v. Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright (76 Haw. 115, 869 P.2d 1334) decision sets forth the final judgment rule: a party may only appeal from a final judgment that on its face disposes of all parties and all claims.
The court’s opinion sets forth in detail the procedure history that led to the appeal from the order denying the Rule 60(b) motion – essentially: the circuit court granted summary judgment in Bailey’s favor as to one of several counts in his complaint, after a final judgment on the claim was entered Duvauchelle appealed and the appeal was dismissed for lack of appellate jurisdiction because the final judgment had not disposed of all of the claims raised in the underlying case. Later, at Bailey’s request, the circuit court entered an order approving his voluntary dismissal of his other claims. A “second” final judgment was entered which Duvauchelle again appealed. This appeal too was dismissed for lack of appellate jurisdiction because it had not disposed of all claims, including third party claims that had been raised in the case.
Still later, Duvauchelle filed a motion for reconsideration pursuant to HRCP 60(b). The circuit court denied the motion, and Duvauchelle again appealed. For the third time, the ICA dismissed his appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction because there had never been a final Jenkins judgment entered in the case – i.e. one that finally disposed of all parties and all claims. Thus, according to the ICA, the order denying reconsideration was an interlocutory order over which it had no jurisdiction.
On cert, the HAWSCT agreed, holding that the order denying the Rule 60(b) motion was not appealable because “the underlying ruling from which the party sought Rule 60(b) relief was not appealable.” Slip. Op. at 14. According to the court, “relief under HRCP 60(b) requires an underlying judgment that comports with the principles of finality set forth in Jenkins.” Id. at 20.
In other words, the final judgment rule means what it says: you need a final judgment to appeal
The HAWSCT also reminded litigants and the circuit court:
- Circuit courts are required to enter Jenkins compliant judgments;
- Any deficiencies must be remedied if brought to the circuit court’s attention;
- The circuit court must enter an appealable final judgment if an appeal is dismissed for lack of appellate jurisdiction and the appealing party asks it to do so;
- Prevailing parties too must submit judgments that comply with Jenkins if they are asked to do so by the circuit court.
Generally, the talk in litigation and appeal circles tends to gravitate toward the proposition that it is the obligation of the party who seeks to appeal to make sure the judgment is final for purposes of appeal, but as the HAWSCT makes clear in Bailey, it is the responsibility of all parties to do so: “[W]e emphasize that the parties should assist the courts in ensuring that appealable final judgments are entered, including when an appellate court dismisses an appeal on that basis.” Slip. Op. at 24.
Although not expressly addressed, the same rules that are set forth in this decision would presumably also apply to appealable orders (for example, in the context of family law appeals in which many orders of a family court are appealable without the entry of a "final judgment").
The court’s full unanimous opinion, authored by Chief Justice Recktenwald, is available here.