Anyone who has watched a courtroom drama, live or a replayed actual trial, or been involved in a civil or criminal matter, probably has some general sense that trial court judges make many rulings or orders. A simple directive (local rule) for a litigant to attend a parenting class during a divorce is an order of a court. Rulings made during trial on admission or exclusion of evidence are also orders.
For the most part, rulings on such legal issues and matters are not final in nature, meaning they do not end the case. With a divorce, a divorce decree is the final order in the case generally speaking.1 In a criminal trial, the conviction and subsequent sentencing are the final orders.2 In civil litigation, the final order may be an injunction or award of money damages.3
As noted in many of Ciyou & Dixon, P.C.’s prior blog posts, a central focus is education. The following is the key learning point for readers: the order, the culmination of rulings and other orders, which decide the case and effectively end it are the final appealable orders. Nevertheless, there are certain cases where an order that is not final, called an interlocutory order, may be appealed.iv
An interlocutory order is an interim or temporary order that does constitute a final resolution of the legal case. In fact, in cases, such as an order to pay money, a party to litigation may have a right to take this to the intermediate appellate court, the Indiana Court of Appeals, which may, in turn, continue on to the Indiana Supreme Court.v In other cases, the trial court must allow the interlocutory appeal and the Court of Appeals must accept it.
This blog does not necessarily focus on interlocutory orders, but final orders. In some cases, it is very difficult for lawyers to determine if an order is a final order. This creates complex situations for attorneys and clients, perhaps even in your case. Failure to timely appeal what is a final order waives the right to appeal (except for belated appeals in criminal cases).
On the other hand, appealing an order that is interlocutory in nature because it might appear to be final is a course that sometimes happens. The problem this creates is the trial court’s action does not usually continue.
The parties then spend significant time and money filing, researching and briefing an appellate case that will ultimately be dismissed by the Indiana Court of Appeals or Indiana Supreme Court because it does not present a final order, only to return the parties back to the point where they were when they left the litigation in the trial court, weeks and months before.
The general reason such non-final orders on appeal must be dismissed is because these higher courts are not the fact-finders and decision makers in the first instance. Instead, they review trial courts’ decisions and do not have jurisdiction to sit as a super trial court of sorts. On January 12, 2012, the Indiana Supreme Court decided an illustrative case on point, Ramsey, M.D., et al.vi
In this case, the defendants in a medical malpractice case, a doctor and hospital, filed a motion to dismiss because of the plaintiff’s delay, which the trial court denied. The doctor and hospital appealed, and, ultimately, the case reached the Indiana Supreme Court.
The Indiana Supreme Court held the trial court’s order (not dismissing the matter) was not a final appealable order; and as such, there was no appellate jurisdiction, dismissing the appeal.
Thus, it is important to ensure the appeal you seek to take (and do take) is a proper interlocutory appeal (an order that is not final) or a final order. Failure to make a proper determination in this first instance, and appeal (or not) may delay your case and unnecessary legal expenses.
Just understanding the difference between an interlocutory and final order is a big step toward making a good appellate assessment or, minimally, for non-lawyers, understanding the appellate process–what it is and what it is not.
Where appeals are involved, we hope you understand there are very specific rules and requirements that are more rigid than trial court processes. Appeals are a key legal right and benchmark of Indiana’s legal system.
However, they must be carefully analyzed and executed. If this blog post increases your base knowledge of the topic, it has succeeded. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys handle appeals taken to the Indiana Court of Appeals and Indiana Supreme Court. This blog post was written by attorney Bryan L. Ciyou.