Words matter, especially when it comes to trial court orders. Without the proper language, a judgment is not an appealable, valid final judgment, so an appellate court cannot consider the merits of an appeal.
McKinley Taylor filed a lawsuit against Cajun Constructors, his former employer. He claimed Cajun Constructors owed him unpaid wages for his work as a carpenter. He claimed they had decided upon a daily per diem rate during his first week on the job. The trial court issued an untitled document, which appeared to be written reasons for a ruling, not a final judgment. The trial court found Taylor was not paid the agreed-upon per diem. The trial court also awarded Taylor penalty wages and attorneys fees under La. R.S. 23:632 because Cajun Constructors’ failure to pay him the per diem was not in good faith. Cajun Constructor appealed.
Cajun Constructors was ordered to show why its appeal should not be dismissed because there was no valid final judgment. In its response, Cajun Constructor acknowledged the trial court’s ruling did not contain the required language “ordered, adjudged and decreed.” See GBB Props. Two, LLC v. Stirling Props. LLC. Additionally, there was not a separate document from the trial court other than the written reasons for its ruling, as contemplated under La. C.C.P. art. 1918. Therefore, Cajun Contractors agreed the trial court’s ruling did not appear to be a final appealable judgment. The trial court also had not yet determined the amount of attorney fees to award to Taylor. Despite agreeing the trial court’s document was not an appealable valid judgment, Cajun Constructors explained it had filed the appeal to preserve its right to appeal. Cajun Constructors then requested the appellate court dismiss the appeal without prejudice and send the case back to the trial court to enter a valid, appealable final judgment.
In reviewing the trial court’s document, the appellate court noted the document was untitled. It also did not include the phrase “ordered, adjudged and decreed.” The appellate court concluded the document was only the trial court’s reasons for its ruling. The document did not provide the parties with adequate notice that it was a final judgment, so there was no final judgment from which Cajun Constructors could appeal. Because there was no final judgment, the appellate court did not have jurisdiction to consider the merits of the appeal. Therefore, the appellate court dismissed the appeal without prejudice and remanded it to the trial court so a final judgment could be entered within sixty days.
Here, Cajun Constructors filed an appeal even though it agreed there was no valid final judgment to preserve its right to appeal. A good lawyer can advise you on whether a similar strategy makes sense for you. Additionally, a good lawyer can help you review a prospective final judgment to ensure it includes the required language for an appellate court to consider the merits of an appeal to avoid the situation Cajun Constructors found itself in here.
Additional Sources: McKinley Taylor v. Cajun Construtors, Inc.
Article Written By Berniard Law Firm
Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Final Judgments: Trial Courts Must Use Clear, Definite Language For a Final Judgment to be Valid and Appealable