ALABAMA – Final Judgments – When 54b is Appropriate

In the case of Cox v. Parrish, Cox appeals his dismissed counterclaim against his sisters as co-executors in the administration of their deceased father’s estate. The lower court found his counterclaim time barred, and certified its dismissal under ARCP 54b. The Supreme Court of Alabama ruled that the lower court had exceeded its discretion by certifying the dismissal under ARCP 54b, and recognizing that the appeal was therefore not of a final judgment, dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Cox had been a business partner of his father, and the business had acquired many assets over the years, including a 260 acre plot of land. His sisters sought declaratory judgment from the trial court regarding limitations on Cox’s rights to claim assets of the business, and Cox’s counterclaim sought entitlement to the majority of the business’s assets.

The Court looked to the language of ARCP 54b, and noted that it requires there to be “no just reason for delay.” The Court accordingly found that a trial court exceeds its discretion when it certifies a final judgment through ARCP 54b while claims pending before the trial court could render the necessity of appeal moot once they are decided. Because the sisters’ declaratory judgment claims asked for a certain disposition of the business assets (while Cox’s counterclaim asked for another), any decision by the lower court regarding  the sisters’ declaratory judgment claims could affect, and possibly moot, Cox’s counterclaim. Therefore, the lower court’s certification of the dismissal of Cox’s counterclaim as final pursuant to ARCP 54b was improper.

Cox v. Parrish, (June 25, 2019).

Read the full opinion here…

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