Garver v. Rosenberg

Decision Date24 February 2015
Docket NumberNo. 20140197,20140197
Citation2015 UT 39
PartiesDAVID and KATHERYN GARVER, Appellants, v. THOMAS ROSENBERG, M.D., et. al., Appellees.
CourtUtah Supreme Court
AMENDED OPINION*

This opinion is subject to revision before final Publication in the Pacific Reporter

Third District, Salt Lake

The Honorable Denise P. Lindberg

No. 070901824

Attorneys:

Clark Newhall, salt Lake City, for appellants

Elliott J. Williams, Carolyn Stevens Jensen, Jesse A. Frederick, salt Lake City, for appellees

CHIEF JUSTICE DURRANT authored the opinion of the Court, in which ASSOCIATE CHIEF JUSTICE NEHRING, JUSTICE DURHAM, JUSTICE PARRISH, and JUSTICE LEE joined.

CHIEF JUSTICE DURRANT, opinion of the Court:

Introduction

¶1 This matter comes before the court on an appeal following the district court's entry of an order purporting to reissue a judgment pursuant to rule 60(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. We conclude that the district court erred in reissuing the judgment and that we lack jurisdiction to address the underlying merits of the appeal.

Background

¶2 David and Katheryn Garver filed a medical malpractice action against Dr. Thomas Rosenberg and several other medical providers. The claims brought by David Garver were referred to arbitration. The claims brought by Katheryn Garver were stayed pending the outcome of the arbitration proceedings. The Garvers filed an appeal in this court shortly after the arbitration panel issued its decision but before the district court issued a judgment conforming to the arbitration award. According to the district court's subsequent observation, the Garvers' counsel nonetheless "continued filing motions in the case, and those matters were fully briefed and addressed by the court without [any party asserting] that the court lacked jurisdiction."

¶3 On March 15, 2013, the district court concluded that the arbitration award had "conclusively determined" Mr. Garver's medical malpractice claim "against him." And the court also dismissed Mrs. Garver's remaining claims. That judgment resolved all claims as to all parties. We subsequently dismissed as premature the appeal that had preceded the March 15 judgment. The Garvers failed to file a separate timely appeal of the March 15 judgment.

¶4 On May 21, 2013, more than sixty days after entry of the March 15 judgment, the Garvers filed a motion pursuant to rule 60(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. That motion presumed that the district court had been divested of jurisdiction by the Garvers' premature notice of appeal and that it lacked jurisdiction to enter the March 15 judgment. The district court agreed with those contentions and purported to reissue the judgment. In so doing, it purported to "amend" the judgment, but it did not grant any affirmative relief other than reissuance of the original judgment, and it did not substantively alter the original decision.

¶5 The Garvers then filed another notice of appeal. We agreed to retain the case but also noted that our appellate jurisdiction may be limited to reviewing the district court's order purporting to amend and reissue the judgment dismissing the case. We requested that the parties file supplemental briefing addressing the question of "whether a premature notice of appeal divests a district court of jurisdiction to enter subsequent rulings on the merits of the case before it." We have jurisdiction pursuant to Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(j).

Standard of Review

¶6 "Whether a trial court has subject matter jurisdiction [is] a question of law, which this Court reviews under a correction of error standard. . . ."1

Analysis

¶7 As discussed below, the Garvers' premature appeal did not divest the district court of jurisdiction to enter its March 15 judgment. Accordingly, the Garvers' deadline for filing a notice of appeal expired thirty days later, and it was error for the district court to rule otherwise. Our rules of civil and appellate procedure provide a set of mandatory, and jurisdictional, prerequisites that must be met before jurisdiction transfers from the district court to the appellate court. Where a party fails to comply with the rules, jurisdiction remains with the district court.

¶8 We begin by emphasizing, as we have done in a number of recent decisions, that parties "may appeal only from a final, appealable order"2 issued in accordance with rule 7(f)(2) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure,3 unless an exception to the rule applies.4This "rule is a mandatory prerequisite to appellate jurisdiction," and "[c]ompliance with rule 7(f)(2) is not discretionary. The rule must be satisfied before a district court's decision is considered final and appealable."5 If "the final judgment rule is not satisfied, we lack jurisdiction over the appeal and must dismiss it."6 As we stated in Powell v. Cannon, where an arbitration panel's decision is at issue, the decision is not final and appealable "[u]ntil the district court enters judgment on the arbitration award."7 This is because, by statute, "[a]n agreement to arbitrate providing for arbitration in this state confers exclusive jurisdiction on the court to enter judgment on an award under this chapter."8

¶9 Rule 4 of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure also imposes strict jurisdictional limitations on the exercise of the right to appeal. Once a final judgment on the merits is entered in a civil case, parties have only thirty days to file a notice of appeal from the judgment,9 though the district court may extend this time period under certain circumstances.10 Although a party may toll this period by filing certain postjudgment motions, filing a motion underrule 60(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure does not toll the time period to appeal the judgment.11

¶10 Once a notice of appeal is filed, jurisdiction transfers from the district court to the appellate court for most matters in the case.12 But the notice must be timelyan untimely notice may "trigger stern consequences," precluding the appellate court from exercising jurisdiction.13 To be timely, a notice of appeal cannot be filed too late, but it also cannot be filed too early. At the very earliest, the notice may be filed "after the announcement of a decision, judgment, or order."14 If it is filed before the court announces its decision, there is no "final order[] [or] judgment[]"15 to appeal from. At the very latest,the notice of appeal may be filed thirty days from entry of the judgment, unless the time to appeal is extended under rule 4(e).16 Otherwise, jurisdiction remains with the district court.17

¶11 The parties cite to language in several of our previous decisions, including in Wood v. Turner, that suggests that any notice of appeal—whether premature or not—still divests district courts of jurisdiction.18 Several of these opinions predate the current version of our rules of appellate procedure, however, which now clarifies that a notice of appeal must be filed, at the earliest, after the court announces its judgment.19 And none of the cases that the Garvers citedeemed valid a premature filing of a notice of appeal where the filing was before the announcement of the judgment.20 Still, we recognize the confusion that the language in these opinions may have caused. Accordingly, we now clarify that any of our prior decisions generally stating that a notice of appeal divests the district court of jurisdiction should be construed as referring to timely notices of appeal. And to the extent our prior decisions state or imply that a notice of appeal filed before announcement of the judgment divests a district court of jurisdiction, we disavow such statements.

¶12 In sum, jurisdiction transfers from the district court to the appellate court only where: (1) the district court has at the very least announced its decision, and a subsequent final judgment is entered in conformity with the announcement; and (2) the appealing party files a timely notice of appeal. In other words, the timing of a party's appeal is central to the transfer of jurisdiction from the district court to the appellate court.

¶13 Here, the Garvers' timing was significantly off, and jurisdiction over the case therefore never transferred to the appellate court. After the district court compelled arbitration and after the arbitration panel announced its decision, the Garvers filed a notice of appeal on November 16, 2012, challenging only the district court's order that compelled arbitration. We dismissed this appeal as premature on May 8, 2013,21 because there was neither a "finalorder[]"22 in the case, nor did the Garvers properly seek interlocutory relief.23

¶14 Before we dismissed the appeal, however, the district court entered a judgment conforming to the arbitration panel's decision on March 15, 2013, in what became the necessary final judgment in the case, disposing of all claims as to both Mr. and Mrs. Garver. Although the Garvers had thirty days to appeal from this judgment, they failed to do so. Instead, they filed a motion under rule 60(b), contending that the district court lacked jurisdiction to enter its March 15 judgment. In essence, they argued that their premature notice of appeal filed on November 16, 2012, divested the district court of jurisdiction, so the district court's March 15 judgment was improper. The district court agreed and entered a ruling on February 21, 2014, granting the Garvers' rule 60(b) motion and purporting to "reissue" the judgment.

¶15 This was error. As described above, a premature notice of appeal does not effectuate a transfer of jurisdiction to review the merits of a case. Accordingly, the district court in this case retained jurisdiction. Parties cannot circumvent the jurisdictional deadlines prescribed by rule 4 of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure with a postjudgment motion under rule 60(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure asking the district court to reissue the judgment. And district courts lack the authority to acquiesce to such a request. Where an appeal is patently...

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