Orders versus judgments? When and what to appeal?
As an appeals lawyer, I am occasionally contacted by a trial lawyer on or near the last day to file a notice of appeal, anxious because he or she is uncertain whether a particular order is appealable. In these cases, the order is in hand, the time to file the notice of appeal is about up, and a judgment has not been entered yet. The trial lawyer’s question is usually something like this: Do I file a notice of appeal from the order, or do I wait for a judgment to be entered? What to do? Time is short, any research would be rushed, and this is no time for uncertainty. If you wait for a judgment to be entered, the time to appeal the order will have passed, and if it turns out the order was the thing to appeal, you will have lost your chance to do so.
When and what to appeal? – the source of the problem
Notices of appeal are often due within 30 days after entry of a judgment or appealable order. Appellate lawyers know, however, that depending upon the circumstances of each case, there are shorter and longer periods of time to file a notice of appeal, so each appeal deadline must be independently evaluated and verified. Further complicating matters is the fact that sometimes there will be no judgment and, in these cases, the appeal will instead be taken from an order. This may occur, for example, when an order affects a substantial right and effectively determines an action so as to prevent entry of a judgment. This is just one example. There are many more, too numerous to list here. There are also important differences between state and federal appellate practice, and appeals from agency actions (administrative law). The important thing to know, however, is that much time, money, and grief can often be saved by taking early action to set the stage for your appeal, just another reason to retain an appellate attorney as soon as you suspect you might need an appeal.
As an appeals lawyer, here is one way I avoid the problem
Time permitting, in close-call cases, when it is uncertain whether the appeal will be from an order or a judgment, I will recommend that the trial lawyer pursue entry of a judgment within the appeal period of the order. Then, with both an order and judgment in hand, I can file a notice of appeal from both documents. This approach ensures that both the order and judgment are appealed, eliminating the need to file a “precautionary notice of appeal” from the order because time is about to run on an appeal from the order. This approach only works, however, when there is time to pursue a judgment within the appeal period for the order. This approach will not work when time is up to appeal from the order, yet another reason to retain an appeals lawyer as soon as you suspect you might need an appeal.