Finality Bites—Again

JMJ Development, LLC v. Ramolia
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-21-01100-CV (July 27, 2022) 
Justices Myers, Molberg (Opinion, linked here), and Garcia 
Another appeal down the drain because of confusion about whether a judgment was final. 

Ramolia sued JMJ and Barton for breach of contract. They counterclaimed. Ramolia sought and secured summary judgment on his breach-of-contract claim. Even though Ramolia had not moved for summary judgment on JMJ and Barton’s claims against him, the court’s summary judgment order was titled “Final Judgment.” And it included the “magic” finality language blessed by the Texas Supreme Court in Lehmann v. Har-Con: “All relief requested in this case and not expressly granted herein is denied. This judgment finally disposes of all parties and claims and is appealable.” JMJ and Barton timely moved for a new trial but did not file their notice of appeal until after the deadline had expired, including the time for an extension.

Faced with the prospect that the tardy notice of appeal would bar their appeal altogether, JMJ and Barton argued the judgment was not final and appealable because Ramolia’s summary judgment motion had not sought disposition of their claims against him. Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(c). The Court of Appeals disagreed. 

A judgment is final, the Court said, “if it actually disposes, or ‘clearly and unequivocally’ states it disposes, of all claims and all parties.” The summary judgment order did that, whether it should have or not. “A judgment that grants more relief than a party is entitled to is subject to reversal”—assuming it is timely appealed—“but it is not, for that reason alone, interlocutory,” and therefore non-appealable. “If it is clear, then the order is final and appealable, even though the record does not provide an adequate basis for rendition of the judgment.” In this case, the Court held, the judgment “was clear and unequivocal, the record is irrelevant, and further analysis is prohibited.” Because JMJ and Barton didn’t file their notice of appeal on time, therefore, the Dallas Court dismissed the appeal, and JMJ and Barton are stuck with a judgment that might have been “subject to reversal,” at least in part, had they recognized that judgment was final and filed their notice on time.
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