Rule 54(b) language rolls off the tongue like poetry:
“Finding no just reason for delay, the court expressly directs entry
of final judgment.” Or something like that. The language is so compelling, it would seem, many lawyers put in all their judgments. Far too
often, I receive forms of judgment that invoke Civil Procedure Rule
54(b) even though the judgment is case-ending—the exact opposite of
a Rule 54(b) judgment.
Enter new Rule 54(c). Effective Jan. 1, 2014, Rule 54(c) requires
special language for final, final judgments in the same way Rule 54(b)
requires special language for partial final judgments. The new rule says,
“A judgment shall not be final unless the court states that no further
matters remain pending and that the judgment is entered pursuant to
This rule appears to supply the case-ending language for which
54(b) abusers have longed. Problem solved, right? Well, in part.
Before we talk about what Rule 54(c) does and doesn’t do, let’s
frame the problem.
At the trial court, we care a lot about whether cases are finished.
That’s the whole reason Rule 38. 1 used to talk about the “inactive
calendar” and now talks about the “dismissal calendar.” We—judges
and court administrators—manage cases that are active and, with a few
exceptions (e.g. post-trial motions, post-judgment collection), don’t
manage cases that have ended. Under the Civil Rules, the final judgment is the finish line, the formal means by which the case ends. It’s
also what mainly determines whether an appeal can be brought.
With so much riding on the “final judgment,” it’s important to have
To illustrate, let’s imagine a case with 10 plaintiffs, two defendants
and eight third-party defendants—in other words, your run-of-the-mill
construction case. After various stipulations to dismiss different parties
spanning a year, the court receives a stipulated judgment saying simply:
“IT IS ORDERED dismissing all claims by Plaintiff Smith against
Defendant X Corporation.” Does this judgment end the case? Are these
the last remaining parties and claims?
The only way to answer this question is by going back to
every dismissal order over the past many months and reconstructing whether these are the last remaining claims and parties. Judicial staff can do this, but it’s tedious, which could
delay the judgment or give rise to mistakes.
There is a simple solution. Just say whether the judgment
resolves all claims. If it does, use the new Rule 54(c) language. For example:
This judgment resolves all outstanding claims. Because no
further matters remain pending, this is a final judgment
entered pursuant to Ariz. R. Civ. P. 54(c).
If not all claims are adjudicated, say so:
This judgment resolves all claims as to the above-named parties only. Other claims and parties remain to be adjudicated.
Hon. Randall H. Warner
is an Arizona Superior Court Judge
in Maricopa County.
And for bonus points, why not list the outstanding claims and parties in the stipulation or notice of lodging? That way, the
judge knows exactly what’s left in the case.
So where does that trusty Rule 54(b)
language come in? Rule 54(b) was
designed for a specific, exceptional circumstance: when the adjudication of one
claim or party needs to be final and
appealable even though others remain to
be adjudicated. If you’re using Rule 54(b)
correctly, you should be using it infrequently.
If you use Rule 54(b) language routinely, you’re probably creating ambiguous
judgments. Take, for example, a collection
case with two defendants. A stipulated
judgment against both is lodged and it
says, “Pursuant to Rule 54(b), the court
finds no just reason for delay and expressly
directs entry of judgment.” I see judgments like this all the time. The lawyer
means for the judgment to be final as to
all claims and parties but has signaled
exactly the opposite. By definition, a Rule
54(b) judgment involves fewer than all
claims or parties.
Before the Rule change, this judgment
should have said something like, “This is a
final judgment disposing of all claims.”
Now, Rule 54(c) gives you the magic
words to use. There is no longer an excuse
for misusing Rule 54(b).
Occasionally, you may want a true Rule
54(b) judgment that is appealable despite
other unresolved claims. Even then, it
again pays to be clear. Don’t just include
Rule 54(b) boilerplate. Tell the court
there are unresolved claims and explain
why a Rule 54(b) partial final judgment is
If the message isn’t obvious by now, it
is simply this: Judgments are important,
so they should state clearly what’s resolved
and what’s not. All judgments should
contain one of the following: ( 1) Rule
54(c) language; ( 2) language stating that
other claims or parties remain; or, in the
rare case, ( 3) Rule 54(b) language. A
judgment with none of these things risks
being misconstrued. AZ AT
Final and Partial Final Judgments
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