California Supreme Court closes door to appellate review of carefully crafted interlocutory orders disguised as final judgments

English: Seal of the Supreme Court of California
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Today the California Supreme Court issued an opinion in Kurwa v. Kislinger (Oct. 3, 2013, S201619).  The decision addresses the question of when a dismissal order is “final enough” to be appealable rather than a non-appealable interlocutory order.  Under the One Judgment Rule, only final judgments are reviewable by direct appeal:

 This case poses the question whether an appeal may be taken when the judgment disposes of fewer than all the pled causes of action by dismissal with prejudice, and the parties agree to dismiss the remaining counts without prejudice and waive operation of the statute of limitations on those remaining causes of action. We conclude such a judgment is not appealable…..

The question is thus not what rule will best serve litigants and trial courts, but what rule is most consistent with the policy against piecemeal appeals codified in section 904.1 and vindicated in Morehart. In the present circumstances, we believe the Don Jose’s rule, which prevents parties from agreeing to split an action‟s disposition into two or more appealable judgments, is the approach most consistent with our statute and precedent. The one final judgment rule does not permit parties “to separate [their] causes of action into two compartments for separate appellate treatment at different points in time.” (Jackson, supra, 54 Cal.App.4th at p. 245.)

Because the parties’ defamation claims were dismissed without prejudice and were effectively preserved for later litigation by an agreement waiving applicable statutes of limitations, the judgment adjudicating other causes of action was not final or appealable. The Court of Appeal was required to dismiss, rather than decide, plaintiff‟s appeal from that judgment.

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