Every year, Indiana trial courts issue hundreds of thousands of orders or render decisions in criminal bench trials or have verdicts in criminal or the small percentage of civil jury trials. Most all order are interlocutory in nature and normally not appealable orders.1 However, with final orders—an order that decides all issues—or jury verdicts there is the right to appeal in the first case in most situations to the Indiana Court of Appeals. This blog explores four orders that constitute final appealable orders in civil cases that are not interlocutory orders or decisions rendered by a jury.
The first order, which is uncommon, but nevertheless an order for judgment on the pleadings.2 Nevertheless, judgment on the pleadings causes the case to be dismissed and is a final appealable order. Judgment on the pleadings means that based on the plaintiff’s complaint and defendant’s answer, taking everything the defendant pleads as being true, there is no legal action against the defendant he or she or it is liable for to plaintiff as a matter of law in Indiana. While rare, because Indiana trial courts prefer to give litigants their day in court, cases do get dismissed via an order for judgment on the pleadings.
Because judgment on the pleadings disposes or ends the litigation, this is a final appealable order subject to a Motion to Correct Error and/or Notice of Appeal and appeal to a higher court. What is key is making sure an appeal is timely filed or you forfeit your right to appeal. Unlike belated (late) appeals in criminal cases, an untimely civil appeal is rarely considered by the Indiana Court of Appeals, although it has the inherent authority to accept and decide a forfeited appeal because it is not jurisdictional.
Secondly, perhaps the most common appeal outside a final order addressing and deciding all issues is an appeal from a grant in whole, or in part, of a summary judgment. The summary judgment says that with discovery (potential evidence gathered after the filing of suit) and on all of the facts presented to the court. Often times, summary judgment may not dispose of the entire case, but certain issues or “counts” of a complaint. Summary judgment in whole (dismissing the case), or in part, is frequently reversed on appeal if any of the facts or inferences evidence there is a material legal fact to account on the furtherance of the case for liability. Again, the preference is to give litigants their day in court, but summarily dispose of claims that have absolutely no merit.
The third type of appeal of a final order is where a case is dismissed along the way for any other reason. There are numerous reasons a trial court may dismiss a case other than a judgment on the pleadings or summary judgment. For instance, if a case has been inactive for a long time a party may seek to move to dismiss the case for failure to prosecute or the court on its own motion may issue a call to the docket. This means the court wants the case to proceed or be dismissed as delayed justice is sometimes thought of as denied justice. Any dismissal of a case is a final order that may be appealed.
The fourth and final case is where there is a final order that disposes (addresses and decides all the issues). In civil litigation where all of the issues have not been decided or divorce where the issues of divorce, custody, and property division are decided later (bifurcated), normally there is no final appealable order until all issues have been decided. However, each issued decided needs careful analysis to ensure the time for appeal is not running. This is an area of law that causes confusion amongst even the most skilled attorneys. The safe approach is to carefully consider every order if you have any desire to appeal your case to a higher court.
Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. advocates handle civil and criminal appeals from all Indiana trial courts to the Indiana Court of Appeals, Indiana Supreme Court, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and United States Supreme Court. This blog is written for general educational purposes only and is not a solicitation for services or specific legal advice. It is an advertisement.