March 27, 2018

Supreme Court Decides Hall v. Hall

On March 27, 2018, the United States Supreme Court decided Hall v. Hall, No. 16-1150, holding that when one of several cases consolidated under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(a) is finally decided, that decision confers upon the losing party the immediate right to appeal, regardless of whether any of the other consolidated cases remain pending.

After a falling out with her son, Ethlyn Hall transferred her property to a trust and named her daughter, Elsa Hall, as her successor trustee. She then sued her son, Samuel Hall, over the handling of her affairs (the trust case). When Ethlyn died, Elsa succeeded Ethlyn as trustee and plaintiff in the trust case. Samuel later filed a separate complaint against Elsa in her individual capacity (the individual case).

On Samuel’s motion, the District Court consolidated the trust and individual cases under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(a) and held a single trial of the consolidated cases. In the individual case, the jury returned a verdict for Samuel, but the District Court granted Elsa a new trial, leaving the individual case unresolved. In the trust case, the jury returned a verdict against Elsa, and she filed a notice of appeal from the judgment in that case. Samuel moved to dismiss the appeal on jurisdictional grounds, arguing that the judgment in the trust case was not final and appealable because his claims against Elsa remained unresolved in the individual case. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed with Samuel and dismissed the appeal.

The Supreme Court reversed. The Court emphasized that Title 28 U.S.C. §1291 provides that “any litigant armed with a final judgment from a lower federal court is entitled to take an appeal.” The Court held that Rule 42(a)(2), which provides that if “actions before the court involve a common question of law or fact, the court may . . . consolidate the actions[,]” does not change that. The Court reasoned that the legal lineage of the term “consolidate” dates back 125 years to the first federal consolidation statute, on which Rule 42(a) was expressly modeled. Under the consolidation statute, “consolidation” was understood not as completely merging the constituent cases into one, but as enabling more efficient case management while still preserving the distinct identities of the cases and rights of the separate parties. Johnson v. Manhattan R. Co., 289 U.S. 479, 496–497 (1933). Prior to the adoption of Rule 42(a), a judgment completely resolving one of several consolidated cases was an immediately appealable final decision. Because Rule 42(a) contained no definition of “consolidate,” the term presumably carried forward the same meaning ascribed to it under the consolidation statute for 125 years and reaffirmed in Johnson.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Download Opinion of the Court.

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