Craig v. Craig (CA1 10/28/10)


Domestic-relations opinions are rarely published but this one discusses a point of appellate jurisdiction. Mostly the dissent does.

Husband and Wife both filed notices of appeal while husband’s Motion for New Trial was still pending. Appeals filed after the motion has been ruled on are technically premature but the courts let them pass (Barassi). This case holds that the appellate court has no jurisdiction when the motion is still pending, following an Arizona Supreme Court case (Smith v. Arizona Citizens).

Wife argued that because she did not file the motion her appeal should be proper, citing a 2000 Division One opinion (Performance Funding) which made that distinction. But Smith cast doubt on that in 2006 (“appellate courts should dismiss a case for lack of jurisdiction while [a time-extending] motion was still pending”) and last year another Division One opinion (Engel) discussed exactly the same issue and decided that Smith controls.

The dissent argues that there is a “tension” between Smith and Performance Funding, which there is if you ignore Engel and in addition assume that Supreme Court opinions inconsistent with earlier Court of Appeals opinions create tension rather than law.

After eight pages of analysis that cannot be called sophisticated, the dissent announces “I dissent for two reasons.” First, it should not make a difference who filed the motion. That’s not a dissent to this case, though – that’s what this case holds. Second, Engel came after the Craigs filed their notices of appeal, at which time Performance Funding “had not been overruled, questioned, or vacated.”  Except, of course, by Smith, two years before. But the dissent says that that was dictum and so Wife should have been able to, well, ignore it. This must mean, though the dissent doesn’t say it this way (but comes startlingly close), that the Court of Appeals waived its lack of jurisdiction by not issuing Engel before Craig was filed and that there has to be a case that comes before since it’s just not fair if the law of a case affects the parties to it.

The dissent would allow Husband’s appeal, too, on the theory that he just filed it because she did, under ARCAP 9(a) (cross-appeal within twenty days of appeal), and that therefore his compliance with the rule “trumps the fact” of the court’s jurisdiction.

(Keep in mind that no case has ever said that filing a notice of appeal before the entry of judgment is the right thing to do and that if Husband thought he was being forced to file a premature notice then he should have filed another one after the entry of judgment and that Wife should have done so, too, and that reading a few cases to figure out what the law was would have told them this.)

Our job is to write about these things but the majority comments more appropriately on the dissent by failing to mention it.

It’s refreshing, though, to read a CA1 opinion that contains not a trace of the usual CA1 house style. The majority opinion is just two pages long. The much-longer dissent does sound at times like it was written by a clerk but we’re afraid it wasn’t.

(link to opinion)