When A “Final” Judgment Isn’t Final by Hon. Dave Kramer

When A “Final” Judgment Isn’t Final

By David Kramer | dkramer@dbllaw.com

A recent decision by the Kentucky Court of Appeals (won by my DBL colleagues Emily Hanna and Betsy Weber) highlights an important consideration for any Kentucky attorney contemplating the appeal of a trial court’s civil judgment. The case, Morgan v. Appalachian Regional Healthcare, Inc. (2010-CA-197) (10/14/11), involved a civil action by a rural hospital to enforce contractual repayment of physician recruitment incentives. 

 The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff hospital on liability and included the finality recitations provided for in CR 54.02(1) (“There being no just cause for delay, this is a final and appealable order.”). However, the  amount to be awarded to the plaintiff, including damages and attorneys’ fees, was not included in the original judgment. Rather, the trial court issued another judgment 13 days later that included the amounts of damages and attorneys’ fees awarded against the defendant.  

 The plaintiff appealed, arguing inter alia that the trial court had lost jurisdiction 10 days after entry of the original judgment. The Court of Appeals noted that a judgment that does not resolve all outstanding issues is not final, notwithstanding the inclusion of a finality endorsement in the judgment. Thus, the trial court retained not only jurisdiction but also “unlimited power to amend and alter its own judgments” before they become final. The opinion did not cite, but could have, 7 Ky. Prac. CR 54.02 at p. 347-48 (“A judgment on liability reserving for later determination the issue of damages is not final and appealable even though it includes the Rule 54.02 recitations.”) 

NOTE:  The decision in Morgan v. Appalachian Regional Healthcare is not yet final, but was designated for publication. Decisions that are not final should not be cited as authority.

 David Kramer is a Northern Kentucky attorney practicing at Dressman Benzinger LaVelle psc.

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