E-Alert Case Updates
An Award of Costs has no Bearing on Time to Appeal
Mattison v. Gelber
In Mattison v. Gelber, the issue of $115 in costs had a far greater impact on an $811,162.73 judgment than anyone could have been anticipated. While $115 seems to pale in comparison to the $811,162.73 judgment, the Court of Special Appeals held that the small sum prevented any appeal in this case. Specifically, while Appellant intended to wait until after costs had been awarded to note an appeal, the Court of Special Appeals held that final judgment had already been entered, irrespective of costs, and Appellant’s time to appeal had expired.
Mattison v. Gelber was a medical malpractice action, though, the underlying facts of that litigation had little to do with this appeal. Suffice it to say, that Appellant filed the malpractice action against two (2) physicians: Dr. Gelber and Dr. Rosas. Appellant prevailed against Dr. Rosas and was awarded a judgment of $811,162.73, but the jury found Dr. Gelber not liable. Significantly, when the Court signed the two (2) written judgments, the Court left the “costs” box blank.
On April 16, 2010, Appellant filed a Motion for a New Trial as to Dr. Gelber. On May 24, 2010, the Court denied Appellant’s motion. At this point, however, nothing had been docketed as to the award of costs. On July 19, 2010, Appellant filed a Motion for Entry of Final Judgment, which, among other things, noted that the Court had not awarded costs. On August 10, 2010, the Court denied the Motion for Final Judgment. By that point, Appellant’s time to appeal had expired. Appellant noted this appeal solely on the denial of the Motion for Entry of Final Judgment on the basis that final judgment could not have been entered until costs had been resolved.
The Court engaged in a two-part analysis to determine whether final judgment had been entered. First, the Court assessed whether costs had, in fact, been awarded. By rule, costs are to be awarded to the prevailing party, unless the Court otherwise allocates costs. Appellant was, without question, the prevailing party as to Dr. Rosas. Appellant, however, was only awarded judgment in the amount of the jury award. Appellant had not been awarded Appellant’s additional $115 filing fee. Therefore, the Court of Special Appeals determined that costs had not been awarded.
The second part of the Court’s analysis was whether a failure to award costs stayed the entry of a final judgment for purposes of appeal. The Court held that it did not. The Court noted that during the drafting of the rules, this very issue was raised. The drafters of the rules conferred and determined that the award of costs was a ministerial function for the clerk and not a judicial function for the Court (unless the Court was to override the ordinary rule that costs are awarded to the prevailing party). Therefore, the Court of Special Appeals found that the trial court’s silence as to costs was a deferral to the clerk to award costs in the standard manner. Thus, final judgment was entered, irrespective of the clerk’s failure to award costs. As such, Appellant’s time to appeal had expired.
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