You Cannot Appeal an Interlocutory Order after Filing a Stipulation of Dismissal; Sartain v. Trilogy Healthcare of Hamilton II, LLC

Most of the time, procedural errors can be overcome, so long as you have a good excuse. But there are exceptions to this rule, and this case demonstrates one of those exceptions.

Sartain filed a 4-count lawsuit against Prairie Lakes, a nursing home. Counts 1 & 3 were dismissed for the failure to exhaust administrative remedies. That decision was certified for interlocutory appeal, but the Court of Appeals declined jurisdiction. Litigation continued on Counts 2 & 4. Eventually, the parties reached a settlement.

They filed a stipulation of dismissal pursuant to Trial Rule 41(A)(1)(b) and a proposed order that dismissed the case “in its entirety.” The trial court signed the order.

Sartain then appealed the dismissal of Counts 1 & 3. Prairie Lakes moved to dismiss, arguing that there was no final judgment. The motions panel denied that motion, but the writing panel revisited it.

When the Court looked at Rule 41(A)(1)(b), it noted that a stipulation of dismissal was effective “without order of court.”

The emphasized language—“without order of court”—means that this case was ended by the filing of the stipulation, not by the trial court’s subsequent Order of Dismissal, which was unnecessary and a nullity. …Because there was no final judgment in this case, we do not have jurisdiction under Appellate Rule 5(A).

Moreover, even if the trial court’s order was not a nullity, the stipulation and order dismissing the case “in its entirety” resolved the issue.

Having agreed to the dismissal of her case “in its entirety”—not just Counts II and IV—Sartain cannot now be heard to argue that the trial court committed any sort of reversible error with regard to Counts I and III.

The Court distinguished this from other cases, like Keck v. Walker, 922 N.E.2d 94 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010), in which the dismissal papers were clear that a prior order could now be appealed.

Three key facts distinguish Keck from this case. First, the parties in Keck did not jointly file a stipulation of dismissal that would have ended the case without a court order, as happened here. Rather, the plaintiffs unilaterally filed a notice of dismissal that needed to be approved by the trial court. See Ind. Trial Rule 41(A)(2). Second, the plaintiffs in Keck requested dismissal of only the one remaining count (Count I), not dismissal of their case “in its entirety,” as happened here. And third, the dismissal order in Keck specifically stated that the earlier order granting summary judgment on Count II “was now a final and appealable order.” Here, there was no such language about Counts I and III in either the parties’ Stipulation of Dismissal or the trial court’s Order of Dismissal.

If I had to wager, I would bet that the parties settlement agreement contemplated an appeal of Counts 1 & 3. But the fine print matters. Sartain’s counsel made an error when getting the dismissal over the line, and this error could not be fixed.

Lessons:
1. The filing of a stipulation of dismissal ends a case; no further court action is
necessary.
2. As there is no final order once a stipulation of dismissal has been filed, no appeal
can be taken after such a dismissal.

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