Veazey v. City of Durham, 743

Citation57 S.E.2d 377,231 N.C. 357
Decision Date03 February 1950
Docket NumberNo. 743,743
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
PartiesVEAZEY, v. CITY OF DURHAM.

Victor S. Bryant and Robert I. Lipton, Durham, for plaintiff, appellee.

Claude V. Jones and Egbert L. Haywood, Durham, for defendant, appellant.

ERVIN, Justice.

We are confronted at the threshold of this appeal by the assertion of the defendant that Judge Burney had no power to try the cause during the week beginning on March 14, 1949, and that in consequence the verdict and judgment must be set aside and a new trial awarded without regard to whether the trial on the merits conformed to pertinent legal principles. The defendant urges two lines of reasoning to sustain this position.

It argues initially that its appeal from the order of Judge Nimocks denying its motion for a compulsory reference transferred jurisdiction of this case from the Superior Court to the Supreme Court until such appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court, and that by reason thereof the act of the Superior Court in trying the action on the merits while such appeal was pending constituted a complete nullity in law. This contention necessitates an examination of the principles by which decisions of the Superior Court are reviewed in the Supreme Court.

Judgments and orders of the Superior Court are divisible into these two classes: (1) Final judgments; and (2) interlocutory orders. G.S. § 1-208. A final judgment is one which disposes of the cause as to all the parties, leaving nothing to be judicially determined between them in the trial court. Sanders v. May, 173 N.C. 47, 91 S.E. 526; Bunker v. Bunker, 140 N.C. 18, 52 S.E. 237; McLaurin v. McLaurin, 106 N.C. 331, 10 S.E. 1056; Fleming v. Roberts, 84 N.C. 532. An interlocutory order is one made during the pendency of an action, which does not dispose of the case, but leaves it for further action by the trial court in order to settle and determine the entire controversy. Johnson v. Roberson, 171 N.C. 194, 88 S.E. 231.

Not every judgment or order of the Superior Court is appealable to the Supreme Court. Indeed, an appeal can be taken only from such judgments and orders as are designated by the statute regulating the right of appeal. This statute provides that 'An appeal may be taken from every judicial order or determination of a judge of a superior court, upon or involving a matter of law or legal inference, whether made in or out of term, which affects a substantial right claimed in any action or proceeding; or which in effect determines the action, and prevents a judgment from which an appeal might be taken; or discontinues the action, or grants or refuses a new trial.' G.S. 1-277.

The decisions construing and applying this statute and connected provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure implementing it establish the propositions set forth below:

1. An appeal lies to the Supreme Court from a final judgment of the Superior Court. Johnson v. Insurance Co., 219 N.C. 445, 14 S.E.2d 405; McIntosh Grocery Co. v. Newman, 184 N.C. 370, 114 S.E. 535; Yates v. Insurance Co., 176 N.C. 401, 97 S.E. 209; Martin v. Flippin, 101 N.C. 452, 8 S.E. 345; Moore v. Hinnant, 87 N.C. 505.

2. An appeal does not lie to the Supreme Court from an interlocutory order of the Superior Court, unless such order affects some substantial right claimed by the appellant and will work an injury to him if not corrected before an appeal from the final judgment. Parrish v. R. R., 221 N.C. 292, 20 S.E.2d 299; Cole v. Trust Co., 221 N.C. 249, 20 S.E.2d 54; Tar Heel Hosiery Mill v. Hosiery Mills, 198 N.C. 596, 152 S.E. 794; Leak v. Covington, 95 N.C. 193; Welch v. Kinsland, 93 N.C. 281.

3. A nonappealable interlocutory order of the Superior Court, which involves the merits and necessarily affects the judgment, is reviewable in the Supreme Court on appropriate exception upon an appeal from the final judgment in the cause. G.S. § 1-278; Alexander v. Alexander, 120 N.C. 472, 27 S.E. 121. An earlier appeal from such an interlocutory order is fragmentary and premature, and will be dismissed. Penn-Allen Cement Co. v. Phillips, 182 N.C. 437, 109 S.E. 257.

4. A judgment or order rendered by a judge of the Superior Court in the exercise of a discretionary power is not subject to review by appeal to the Supreme Court in any event, unless there has been an abuse of discretion on his part. McIntosh: North Carolina Practice and Procedure in Civil Cases, section 676; Beck v. Bottling Co., 216 N.C. 579, 5 S.E.2d 855; Smith v. Insurance Co., 208 N.C. 99, 179 S.E. 457; Winslow Co. v. Cutler, 205 N.C. 206, 170 S.E. 636.

When a litigant takes an appeal to the Supreme Court from an appealable interlocutory order of the Superior Court and perfects such appeal in conformity to law, the appeal operates as a stay of all proceedings in the Superior Court relating to the issues included therein until the matters are determined in the Supreme Court. G.S. § 1-294; Lawrence v. Lawrence, 226 N.C. 221, 37 S.E.2d 496; Ridenhour v. Ridenhour, 225 N.C. 508, 35 S.E.2d 617; Ragan v. Ragan, 214 N.C. 36, 197 S.E. 554; Vaughan v. Vaughan, 211 N.C. 354, 190 S.E. 492; Bohannon v. Trust Co., 198 N.C. 702, 153 S.E. 263; Likas v. Lackey, 186 N.C. 398, 119 S.E. 763; Pruett v. Power Co., 167 N.C. 598, 83 S.E. 830; Combes v. Adams, 150 N.C. 64, 63 S.E. 186.

But this sound principle is not controlling upon the record in the case at bar. The defendant took its appeal from an order of Judge Nimocks denying its motion for a compulsory reference. Since Judge Nimocks entered such order in the exercise of a discretion reposed in him by law, and since nothing suggested or indicated any abuse of such discretion on his part, the order was not subject to review by appeal. Veazey v. Durham, supra. For this reason, we are presently concerned with this precise question: What is the effect of an appeal from a nonappealable interlocutory order upon proceedings in the Superior Court pending the dismissal of the appeal by the Supreme Court?

Back of every legal principle lies the reason that gave it birth. Hence, a rule of law can be best interpreted and applied if due heed is paid to the reason which called it into being. Let us consider the reason which accounts for the rules regulating appeals.

Courts exist so that every person may have remedy by due course of law for any injury done him in his lands, goods, person, or reputation. N.C.Const. Art. I, Sec. 35.

Although the law's delay has been a chronic lament among men for centuries, the law itself does not will that justice should be lame. In truth, its consciousness that justice delayed is justice denied arose before this guaranty of Magna Carta was exacted from King John at Runnimede: 'To no one will we deny justice, to no one will we delay it.' The awareness of the law in this respect finds present day expression in the declaration of our organic law that right and justice shall be 'administered without sale, denial, or delay.' N.C.Const. Art. I, Sec. 35.

There is no more effective way to procrastinate the administration of justice than that of bringing cases to an appellate court piecemeal through the medium of successive appeals from intermediate orders. The rules regulating appeals from the Superior Court to the Supreme Court are designed to forestall the useless delay inseparable from unlimited fragmentary appeals, and to enable courts to perform their real function, i. e., to administer 'right and justice * * * without sale, denial, or delay.' N.C.Const. Art. I, Sec. 35.

This being true, a litigant can not deprive the Superior Court of jurisdiction to try and determine a case on its merits by taking an appeal to the Supreme Court from a nonappealable interlocutory order of the Superior Court. A contrary decision would necessarily require an acceptance of the paradoxical paralogism that a party to an action can paralyze the administration of justice in the Superior Court by the simple expedient of doing what the law does not allow him to do, i. e., taking an appeal from an order which is not appealable.

Our conclusion on this aspect of the controversy finds full sanction in previous decisions of this Court adjudging that when an appeal is taken to the Supreme Court from an interlocutory order of the Superior Court which is not subject to appeal, the Superior Court need not stay proceedings, but may disregard the appeal and proceed to try the action while the appeal on the interlocutory matter is in the Supreme Court. State v. Lea, 203 N.C. 316, 166 S.E. 292; Goodman v. Goodman, 201 N.C. 794, 161 S.E. 688; Dunn v. Marks, 141 N.C. 232, 53 S.E. 845; State v. Dewey, 139 N.C. 556, 51 S.E. 937; Guilford County v. Georgia Co., 109 N.C. 310, 13 S.E. 861; Carleton v. Byers, 71 N.C. 331. Moreover, this conclusion is sustained by the repeated cases holding by implication rather than by express declaration that an appeal to the Supreme Court from a nonappealable order of the Superior Court confers no power on the Supreme Court to decide the appeal, and that the Supreme Court must dismiss the appeal because it can not properly exercise a jurisdiction which it does not possess. Hawley v. Powell, 222 N.C. 713, 24 S.E.2d 523; Wadesboro v. Coxe, 216 N.C. 545, 5 S.E.2d 716; Spruill v. Bank, 163 N.C. 43, 79 S.E. 262; Benton v. Collins, 121 N.C. 66, 28 S.E. 59.

The defendant maintains secondarily on the present phase of the litigation that the trial before Judge Burney was invalid even if its appeal from the order of Judge Nimocks was insufficient of itself to oust the jurisdiction of the Superior Court. To support its position in this respect, the defendant advances this argument: That the defendant gave notice in open court of its appeal from the order of Judge Nimocks denying its motion for a compulsory reference at the time of the entry of the order; that Judge Nimocks immediately fixed the amount of the appeal bond and settled the case on the defendant's appeal; that such action on the part of Judge...

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