Musick v. Woznicki

Decision Date30 May 2006
Docket NumberNo. 05SC364.,05SC364.
Citation136 P.3d 244
PartiesJohn D. MUSICK, Jr.; and W/J Ranch, Inc., Petitioners, v. Laurence WOZNICKI, Respondent.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Appel & Lucas, P.C., Garry R. Appel, Denver, for Petitioners.

Stevens, Littman, Biddison, Tharp & Weinberg, LLC, Mark E. Biddison, Boulder, for Respondent.

BENDER, Justice.

I. Introduction

We review the court of appeals decision in Woznicki v. Musick, 94 P.3d 1243 (Colo.App. 2004), which held that a premature notice of appeal of a nonfinal judgment does not divest the trial court of jurisdiction.1

During the course of a complex case that was divided into three phases for trial, Musick appealed a ruling of the trial court before the trial court had certified it pursuant to C.R.C.P. 54(b). Generally, the filing of a notice of appeal shifts jurisdiction to the appellate court, thus divesting the trial court of jurisdiction to conduct further substantive action related to the judgment on appeal. However, Colorado Revised Statute section 13-4-102 mandates that the court of appeals has jurisdiction over appeals of final judgments. We conclude that a trial court ruling that is subject to C.R.C.P. 54(b) certification but is not yet certified does not constitute a final judgment for the purposes of appeal.

We therefore agree with the court of appeals' analysis and conclusion and hold that, barring extraordinary circumstances, a judgment must be certified under C.R.C.P. 54(b) in order to be considered final and sufficient to transfer jurisdiction to the court of appeals. Accordingly, we further hold that the trial court in this case had jurisdiction to certify the Phase I judgment on appeal, conduct the Phase II trial proceedings, and certify the Phase II verdict.

We affirm. We hold that a trial court is not divested of jurisdiction when a party files a premature notice of appeal of a nonfinal judgment. As applied here, we hold, as did the court of appeals, that the jurisdictional defect has been cured, rendering the appeal ripe to proceed as of the date of the trial court's certification of its judgment.

II. Facts and Proceedings Below

The case underlying this appeal encompassed several parties, claims, and cross-claims related to ownership of Salvation Ditch Company stock and real estate in Aspen, Colorado. Due to difficulties in seating a jury for the entire month-long trial, the trial court divided the proceeding into three phases (Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III). At the conclusion of Phase I, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff Laurence Woznicki and against defendants John Musick, Jr. and W/J Ranch.2 The trial court entered an order reflecting the jury verdict. The trial court then conducted Phase II of the trial.

Musick filed a notice of appeal of the Phase I verdict though the trial court had not yet issued a certification of the Phase I order pursuant to C.R.C.P. 54(b). The court of appeals ordered Musick to show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed without prejudice for lack of a final judgment. Musick then produced an order from the trial court, issued after he had filed his notice of appeal, granting C.R.C.P. 54(b) certification of the Phase I and Phase II verdicts. Accordingly, the court of appeals deferred ruling on the order to show cause and requested briefing on whether the trial court retained jurisdiction to issue the certification orders and to conduct the Phase II trial after Musick filed the notice of appeal.

In its decision on whether the trial court retained jurisdiction to issue the Phase I certification order after the notice of appeal was filed, the court of appeals considered whether Anstine v. Churchman, 74 P.3d 451 (Colo.App.2003), was applicable. In Anstine, a different division of the court of appeals held that appeal of a nonappealable order divests the trial court of jurisdiction to determine substantive matters directly affecting the judgment being appealed. Id. at 454. The court of appeals concluded that, since the trial court's actions in certifying the Phase I judgment and conducting the Phase II trial were neither ministerial nor collateral, Anstine was applicable. Woznicki, 94 P.3d at 1245. However, the court of appeals declined to follow Anstine and held that the trial court had jurisdiction to enter the C.R.C.P. 54(b) certification and conduct the Phase II proceedings.3 Id.

In reaching its determination, the court of appeals employed a different reading of the case relied upon by the Anstine court, Molitor v. Anderson, 795 P.2d 266 (Colo.1990). The Anstine court interpreted Molitor broadly as standing for the principle that, "once an appeal is taken, a trial court is divested of jurisdiction to determine substantive matters that directly affect the judgment being appealed unless the appellate court has issued a remand order." Anstine, 74 P.3d at 452. In Woznicki, however, the court of appeals employed a more narrow reading of Molitor as applying only to appeals of final judgments:

Unlike the division in Anstine v. Churchman, supra, we do not read Molitor to hold that the filing of any notice of appeal deprives the trial court of jurisdiction. Instead, we construe the rule in Molitor to apply only to perfected appeals from final judgments.

Woznicki, 94 P.3d at 1246 (citation omitted). Relying on this interpretation of Molitor, the court of appeals concluded that, because it has no authority to address the substantive issues of an appeal without a final order or judgment, a trial court retains jurisdiction over the merits of a case until rendering a final order or judgment. Thus, the court of appeals held that Musick's premature notice of appeal, filed before the trial court finalized the Phase I judgment by issuing a C.R.C.P. 54(b) certification of its Phase I order, did not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction to certify the order or conduct Phase II of the trial during the time between the filing of the invalid notice of appeal and the court of appeals' dismissal of that appeal.

We accepted certiorari to determine whether the court of appeals erred in concluding that the trial court retained jurisdiction.

III. Analysis

We begin our analysis with an examination of the circumstances in which a trial court retains jurisdiction, followed by a discussion of appellate jurisdiction and C.R.C.P. 54(b).

Musick contends that the act of filing an appeal, whether or not improperly, transfers jurisdiction from the trial court to the court of appeals. Thus, we must discern what circumstances could have caused jurisdiction to transfer to the court of appeals in this case, leaving the trial court without jurisdiction to certify the Phase I judgment and conduct the Phase II trial.

We note at the outset that "[a] trial court retains jurisdiction to act on matters that are not relative to and do not affect the judgment on appeal." People v. Stewart, 55 P.3d 107, 126 (Colo.2002) (citing People v. Dillon, 655 P.2d 841, 844 (Colo.1982); Molitor, 795 P.2d at 268). Accordingly, we first consider whether the Phase I verdict certification and the Phase II trial were matters not relative to the judgment on appeal and therefore remained within the trial court's jurisdiction. If we determine either subsequent trial court action was not relative to the appeal of the Phase I judgment, we need not engage in further inquiry regarding that action.

We begin with the Phase I verdict certification. By definition, the certification of the judgment on appeal is closely related to the judgment on appeal. Hence, we cannot conclude that the trial court retained jurisdiction to certify the Phase I judgment because it was a matter not relative to and that did not affect the appeal of that Phase I judgment.

However, whether the trial court's action in conducting the Phase II trial is relative to and affects the Phase I judgment on appeal is less clear. Claims must be separable to some degree in order to qualify for C.R.C.P. 54(b) certification. See, e.g., Harding Glass Co., Inc. v. Jones, 640 P.2d 1123, 1125 (Colo. 1982). Thus, the Phase II trial arguably was not relative to the Phase I judgment. If the Phase II trial was not relative to the Phase I judgment, then the trial court would have retained jurisdiction to conduct the Phase II trial after Musick filed his notice of appeal for Phase I. But we need not address that possibility today, as we ultimately hold that the trial court retained jurisdiction to conduct the Phase II trial because Musick's appeal of the Phase I judgment was improper. Hence, we direct our analysis to a determination of when jurisdiction generally shifts from the trial court to the court of appeals.

Musick argues that longstanding Colorado precedent supports his contention that jurisdiction shifted in this case from the trial court to the appellate court simply because an appeal was filed. In support of his assertion, Musick cites a case that addressed an appeal of agency action, Colo. State Bd. of Med. Exam'rs v. Lopez-Samayoa, 887 P.2d 8 (Colo.1994), and a criminal case, People v. Dillon, 655 P.2d 841, 844 (Colo.1982) ("Unless otherwise specifically authorized by statute or rule, once an appeal has been perfected, the trial court has no jurisdiction to issue further orders in the case relative to the order or judgment appealed from."). We agree that both of these cases support the general idea that, once an appeal is properly underway, jurisdiction transfers to the appellate court. And we do not disagree with this principle. See Molitor, 795 P.2d at 268 ("Courts universally recognize the general principle that once an appeal is perfected jurisdiction over the case is transferred from the trial court to the appellate court for all essential purposes with regard to the substantive issues that are the subject of the appeal."). However, neither Lopez-Samayoa nor Dillon addressed the specific, narrow issue we examine...

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  • McDonald v. Zions First Nat'l Bank, N.A.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals
    • March 12, 2015
    ...possesses jurisdiction to review the certified order and any C.R.C.P. 59 motions seeking revision of that order. See Musick v. Woznicki, 136 P.3d 244, 248–49 (Colo. 2006) (appellate court possesses jurisdiction over the certified order and any matters that are “relative to and ... affect” t......
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    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Colorado Lawyer No. 43-7, July 2014
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