September 11, 2013
ELIZABETH "BETSY" BAUMGART, Plaintiff and Appellant,
STATE OF MONTANA, DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE, et al., Defendant and Appellees.
In DA 13-0564, Plaintiff Elizabeth ''Betsy" Baumgart (Baumgart) has filed a notice of appeal from two orders of the First Judicial District Court, entered respectively on April 22, 2013 and July 10, 2013. In those orders, the District Court, inter alia, granted summary judgment to Defendants State of Montana, et al., (State) on Baumgart's claims of wrongful discharge and political discrimination, and dismissed Dore Schwinden as a party defendant. The District Court has certified both of these summary judgment orders as final judgments for purposes of appeal pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 54(b) (Certificafion Order), and Baumgart appeals these rulings.
In DA 13-0582, the State has likewise filed a notice of appeal from one of these orders. In the April 22 order, the District Court also denied the State's motion for summary judgment on Baumgart's defamation and invasion of privacy claims, reserving those claims for trial. In the Certification Order, the District Court also certified the denial of summary judgment on these claims as a final judgment pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 54(b), and the State appeals from that portion of the April 22 order.
Pursuant to M. R. App. P. 4(4)(b), these notices of appeal come before us for a determination of whether "the certification complies with M. R. Civ. P. 54(b) and rule 6(6)" and for issuance of a corresponding order "allowing the appeal to proceed."
As required, the District Court analyzed the factors governing the propriety of certification under M. R. Civ. P. 54(b). See Roy v. Neibauer, 188 Mont. 81, 87, 610 P.2d 1185, 1189 (1980). Regarding the factor that considers the relationship between the adjudicated and unadjudicated claims, the court reasoned that, while the adjudicated and unadjudicated claims arise from different acts by the State, "namely termination of employment versus later release of the grievance documents [to the media]—the Court finds that the adjudicated claims, particularly the wrongful discharge claim, directly impact the unadjudicated claims." Specifically, the court noted that "Baumgart's defamation [claim] is grounded in her contention that the reasons for her discharge were false and defamed her." Because the District Court found that summary judgment was not warranted on the defamation and privacy claims, it reasoned that "Baumgart faces the prospect of two trials on the same broad set of facts" unless there is appellate review of the adjudicated claims.
We conclude that the District Court's reasoning on certification of the orders granting summary judgment to the State on Baumgart's wrongful discharge and political discrimination claims complies with the rules, and that the appeal in DA 13-0564 may proceed.
However, while the Roy factors consider the relationship between adjudicated and unadjudicated claims, we conclude that M. R. Civ. P. 54(b) does not contemplate certification of unadjudicated claims as final for purposes of appeal. Although the language of the Rule is not explicit in this regard, the necessity of an adjudication is implicit therein. It states that "the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties only if the court expressly determines that there is no reason for delay." M. R. Civ. P. 54(b) (emphasis added). A denial of summary judgment is not a "final judgment" on a claim. Then, "[n]o reason for delay" refers to a determination that there is no reason to delay an appeal of the District Court's adjudication of a claim. There must be a claim adjudication before there can be a certification that there is no reason to delay its appeal. Consistent therewith, the Rule continues, "[o]therwise, any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action..." M. R. Civ. P. 54(b) (emphasis added). Although the District Court cited federal authority to the contrary, adjudication of a claim is necessary to satisfy our Rule 54, and a denial of summary judgment is not an adjudication. Consequently, the District Court's certification of the unadjudicated claims fails to comply with the rules, and appeal of those claims cannot proceed.
Along with its notice of appeal, the State filed a motion to consolidate the appeals in these two cases. That motion is opposed, and it is currently being held by the Clerk of Court pending a response or the lapse of time for a response. However, given our disposition herein, the appeal in DA 13-0582 will be dismissed as improperly certified, thereby mooting the motion to consolidate the appeals. Therefore,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, pursuant to M. R. App. P. 4(4)(b), that the appeal in DA 13-0564 shall proceed in accordance with the Montana Rules of Appellate Procedure.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, pursuant to M. R. App. P. 4(4)(b), that the appeal in DA 13-0582 is DISMISSED as improperly certified as final under M. R. Civ. P. 54(b). The motion to consolidate filed in this appeal is DENIED as moot.
The Clerk of this Court is directed to provide copies of this Order to all counsel of record and to the Honorable Kathy Seeley, First Judicial District Court, presiding District Judge.