Decatur-Moline Corp. v. Blink

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Citation283 N.W.2d 347
Docket NumberDECATUR-MOLINE,No. 62541,62541
PartiesCORPORATION, d/b/a Snelling and Snelling, Appellant, v. Donna M. BLINK, Appellee.CORPORATION, d/b/a Snelling and Snelling, Appellant, v. Karen Ann McKIRCHY, Appellee.
Decision Date19 September 1979

Arthur L. Buzzell, of Newport, Buzzell & Fortini, Davenport, for appellant.

Edward N. Wehr, of Wehr & DeLange, Davenport, for appellees.

Considered by REYNOLDSON, C. J., and UHLENHOPP, HARRIS, ALLBEE, and LARSON, JJ.

LARSON, Justice.

Plaintiff appeals and defendants cross-appeal from the trial court's denial of new trial motions filed by all parties following the first segment of a bifurcated action to enforce covenants not to compete contained in employment contracts. We dismiss the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction.

Decatur-Moline filed separate petitions in district court seeking damages and injunctions against the defendants for alleged violations of covenants not to compete contained in their employment contracts with plaintiff. The district court consolidated the cases for trial. The defendants sought an order of the district court bifurcating the trial into liability and damage stages. One reason for this request was to "conserve judicial time." Another reason was based upon the fact that the liquidated damage provisions of the covenants were based upon defendants' net business income during their period of alleged competition. Thus, a determination of damages would require disclosure of customer lists and other confidential information. By limiting the first stage to a determination of the enforceability of the covenants, defendants hoped to avoid such disclosure. There was no order entered on the motion, except one providing that the trial court would rule on it. No resistance to the bifurcated trial application appears. It is clear the matter proceeded only on the issue of liability from the trial court's statement in its findings and conclusions that "(b)y agreement the actions were bifurcated and this hearing was to determine the enforceability of the restrictive covenants in the employment agreements."

The court granted injunctive relief in the Blink case but denied damages "except as an offset against her counterclaim (for amounts allegedly due from plaintiff), if and when tried to a jury." It denied an injunction in the McKirchy case, but concluded she must pay damages to plaintiff in an amount to be determined later.

The trial court, after announcing these findings and conclusions, entered the following order:

1. That final determination of damages in the counterclaim in Case No. 57395 and the offset of actual damages shall be tried by a jury prior to December 31, 1978, or the case shall be dismissed by the clerk without further order of this court.

2. That actual damages, if any, in Case No. 57397 sustained by plaintiff as a result of the defendant's violation of the restrictive covenant shall be determined in a trial to the court prior to December 31, 1978. If not tried by December 31, 1978 the case shall be dismissed by the clerk without further order of this court.

All parties filed motions for new trial. Upon their denial, plaintiff appealed in both cases and defendants cross-appealed.

The threshold consideration in any appeal is that of jurisdiction. We will address that matter, even though not raised by the parties. Qualley v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 261 N.W.2d 466, 468 (Iowa 1978). The jurisdictional issue involved is the finality of the orders appealed from. Attorneys for the parties were notified in advance of oral argument of the apparent jurisdictional problems and were given an opportunity to respond. They jointly request that we hear and determine the appeal for several reasons. They contend the provision requiring trial of the remaining issues by December 31, 1978, or their dismissal, makes the order final because mere passage of time would end the proceedings. The defect in this reasoning, however, is that the order must be final when the appeal is taken. Iowa R.App.P. 1. It is not sufficient that it might be final at some future time. In any event, there is nothing in the record to show the case was terminated pursuant to the try-or-dismiss order. In fact, the contrary appears: the parties stipulated for a continuance past December 31, 1978, and this was presumably done.

We are further urged to hear this appeal on the basis that "(s)ince the main issue (at the second segment of the trial) will be whether the Trial Court's Decree fixing 'actual' damages is the only recoverable damages, it seems appropriate for the Appellate Court to rule on that issue prior to the trial of the damage suit itself even without an interlocutory order." Even conceding the "appropriateness" of this procedure, our appellate rules are clear we cannot entertain an interlocutory appeal without an application and order permitting it. Iowa R.App.P. 2. We have neither in this case. The right of appeal is purely statutory; we cannot in effect enact new appellate rules by extending them beyond their clearly defined limitations. See Helland v. Yellow Freight System, Inc., 204 N.W.2d 601, 604 (Iowa 1973).

Because issues remained to be tried following the filing of the trial court's order, namely determination of damages in the employer's claim against defendant McKirchy and in defendant Blink's counterclaim against the plaintiff, the rights of the parties have not been fully determined. This situation is analogous to the cases involving dismissal of only part of a petition. Such a partial dismissal is an interlocutory order and is not appealable. See Shoemaker v. City of Muscatine, 275 N.W.2d 206, 208 (Iowa 1979); Bigelow v. Williams, 193 N.W.2d 521, 522-23 (Iowa 1972).

The trial court's order here was clearly interlocutory. However, the appeals and cross-appeals were not directly from that order, but rather from the subsequent order denying a new trial. Iowa R.App.P. 1 provides, in part, that

(f)or the purpose of this rule (requiring finality) any order granting a new trial . . . and any order denying a new trial shall be deemed a final decision.

This language seemingly presents the possibility that an order, otherwise not final and therefore not appealable, may in effect still be appealed merely by filing a new trial motion and appealing from its ruling.

Despite the language of Iowa R.App.P. 1 which appears to make "any" order on a new trial motion a final order for appeal purposes, we do not so interpret it. To give that language of the rule a literal interpretation would conflict with the clear import of our appellate rules and would vitiate our strong policy against piecemeal appeals reaffirmed in Shoemaker, 275 N.W.2d at 208-09. Further, we have...

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10 cases
  • Poulsen v. Russell
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • January 14, 1981
    ...timely. In general, a judgment is not final unless the rights of the parties have been fully determined. Decatur-Moline Corp. v. Blink, 283 N.W.2d 347, 349 (Iowa 1979). Blink involved separate actions by a corporation against two employees for injunctive and damage relief for violation of c......
  • Green v. Advance Homes, Inc., 62657
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • June 18, 1980
    ...Rule of Appellate Procedure 1. An order must be final when an appeal is taken pursuant to Iowa R.App.P. 1. E. g., Decatur-Moline Corp. v. Blink, 283 N.W.2d 347, 349 (Iowa 1979). If the trial court's judgment is not final, defendant's appeal must be The standard generally applicable in deter......
  • Wirtanen v. Provin
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • June 18, 1980
    ...taken because no final judgment had preceded the ruling on the motion for new trial. Iowa R.App.P. 1(a); Decatur-Moline Corporation v. Blink, 283 N.W.2d 347, 350 (Iowa 1979) ("a new trial motion cannot provide the necessary element of finality to an otherwise interlocutory order or Thereaft......
  • Nuzum v. State
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • January 14, 1981
    ...If this court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over an appeal, it must be dismissed on our own motion. Decatur-Moline Corp. v. Blink, 283 N.W.2d 347 (Iowa 1979). We conclude that we do not have jurisdiction to consider the merits of Nuzum's appeal because his notice of appeal was n......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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