Santa Maria v. Najera (CA1 7/21/09)

Can a motion for New Trial make an otherwise unappealable judgment appealable? We would have thought the answer intuitive.

Plaintiff’s filed a five-count Complaint; Defendants counterclaimed. Defendants obtained summary judgment on three of Plaintiffs’ five counts. Plaintiffs then attacked that ruling with a motion for New Trial. The court denied that and Plaintiffs appealed.

The judgment in the court below was a partial judgment without Rule 54(b) language. The opinion takes a surprising amount of time pointing out that you can’t appeal one of those. (This tendency to explain basic principles at length is common in opinions, almost as if – not that we’re suggesting anything, you understand – they were drafted by people who hadn’t practiced law much.)

But the appeal wasn’t from the summary judgment, it was from an order denying a new trial. Aha, a loophole!

No. The ruling on a New Trial can be appealed under A.R.S. 12-2101(C) — “from any special order made after final judgment.” You need a final judgment. Plaintiffs here didn’t have a final judgment, so they couldn’t appeal the New Trial order. The opinion takes three pages to say that, but that’s all it adds up to.

The opinion points out that a case called Mezey said all this just six years ago. But the court was spooked by the fact that a later Supreme Court opinion in another case disapproved of some things Mezey said about a different part of the appeal statute. So Santa Maria treats Mezey as if it were slightly radioactive, saying that the result here “is compelled” not by Mezey’s precedent but by its “reasoning.” 

Perhaps that was the reason for publishing this opinion. Unless the court thinks there’s something wrong with Mezey, Santa Maria adds nothing to the law.