Subject to limited exceptions, discussed below, a litigant can appeal only from a trial court order or judgment which is “final.” In civil cases, Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure 54(a) defines a “judgment” or “final judgment” as “the act of the trial court finally adjudicating the rights of the parties affected by the judgment….” Rule 54(b) makes clear that a judgment which “adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties” is interlocutory, not final, unless the trial court expressly directs the entry of final judgment on the claims decided, and certifies that “there is no just reason for delay.” The “finality requirement eliminates piecemeal appeals which cause delay and waste judicial resources.” Roche v. Boston Safe Deposit & Trust Co., 391 Mass. 785, 791 (1984). Under Rule 58, a judgment must be set forth as a separate document and becomes effective only when entered on the court docket.
Thus, there is no appeal of right from the many orders entered by trial courts which do not dispose of all claims as to all parties. These include discovery orders, denials of motions for summary judgment, evidentiary orders and many others.
Although finality is the general rule, various exceptions allow review of judgments or orders which are interlocutory. These include:
- A petition for interlocutory review under Massachusetts G.L. c. 231, §118, ¶1;
- Rule 54(b) certification;
- Report of a case by the trial court to the appellate court; and
- The doctrine of present execution.
Read more about appeals here.
Learn about my appellate brief drafting services here.