April 16, 2007
Arizona Court of Appeals Issues First Impression Interpretation of Its Version of FRCP 54(b)
In Kim v. Mansoori, 153 P.3d 1086 (Ariz. App. 2007), an Arizona appellate court issued an interpretation of first impression of Arizona Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), which permits entry of a final judgmetn as to one or more but fewer than all claims if the district court makes certain certifications. The statute, therefore, presents a narrow exception to the final judgment rule. Unlike the federal rule, Arizona's rule was amended to include this phrase: "For purposes of this subsection, a claim for attorneys’ fees may be considered a separate claim from the related judgment regarding the merits of a cause."
Despite the plainn language, which would seem to suggest that a claim for attorneys' fees was a "claim" for purposes of Arizona's Rule 54(b), the court applied an intentionalist approach and, without finding ambiguity, examined extra-textual sources, including the legislative history:
But that sentence, read in its entirety and in the context of the committee note and other provisions of Rule 54, provides a trial court discretion to treat a claim for attorney fees as a separate claim, subject to Rule 54(b) certification, only in the context of a “related judgment regarding the merits of a cause.” Id. Here, the trial court granted judgment on the Kims’ claim for attorney fees without entering a related judgment on the merits of the cause. The State Bar Committee Notes to the 1999 amendments explain the rationale for the
pertinent provision as follows:[T]here may be good reasons to entertain an immediate judgment on the merits of a cause, while leaving attorneys’ fees issues to be addressed later. Rule 54(b) was amended in 1999 to permit that approach. Under the amended rule, the trial judge may certify the “merits” judgment for immediate entry and appeal before such judge renders a decision on the attorneys’ fees issues. The trial court will retain jurisdiction to address the attorneys’ fee issue after the appeal of a Rule 54(b) certified judgment on the merits.
Ariz. R. Civ. P. 54(b) bar committee note. Thus, the framers intended to permit a trial court to characterize a claim for attorney fees as a separate claim so it would have the discretion to enter an immediate, appealable judgment on the merits—notwithstanding lingering and unresolved attorney fees issues.
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