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When are Judgments Final: Amendment to Virginia Supreme Court Rule 1:1

November 15, 2018 By David D. Das

An amendment to Rule 1:1 of the Supreme Court of Virginia became effective on November 1, 2018. Rule 1:1 provides that final judgments, decrees and orders remain under the control of the trial court, and are subject to modification, for 21 days. Rule 1:1 coincides with Rule 1:2, which allows appeal of a partial final judgment, and Rule 5:9, which mandates noticing an appeal within 30 days of entry of any final judgment, decree or order.

But when is an order final? Established case law states that “[i]n general terms, a final judgment is one which disposes of the entire action and leaves nothing to be done except the ministerial superintendence of execution of the judgment.”1 The amendment stays consistent with this principa and states that an order is final “if it disposes of the entire matter before the court, including all claim(s) and all cause(s) of action against all parties. . .”2

The amendment makes clear when a judgment is final, (i.e. when the entire matter is disposed), but what about partial judgments such as a demurrer, an order granting summary judgment or a plea in bar with prejudice and without leave to amend? The amended Rule distinguishes between an order disposing of particular “claim(s) or cause(s) of action” and an order disposing of an “entire matter,” and the amendment clarifies that an order is final only if it includes the entire matter.

This requirement follows the general principal that a final order regarding some but not all defendants is not appealable. However, Rule 1:2 codifies an established exception to this principal. Rule 1:2 permits final, appealable judgments against fewer than all parties if certain requirements are met:

(i) the interests of such parties, and the grounds on which judgment is entered as to them, are                         separate and distinct from those raised by the issues in the claims against remaining parties, and

(ii) the results of any appeal from the partial final judgment cannot affect decision of the claims against the  remaning parties, and

(iii) decision of the claims remaining in the trial court cannot affect the disposition of claims against the parties subject to the Partial Final Judgment if those parties are later restored to the case by reversal of the Partial Final Judgment on appeal

Amended Rule 1:1 does not alter Rule 1:2. Although Rule 1:1 provides that final orders must include all claims against all parties, if final orders that involve less than all claims or all defendants meet the requirements of Rule 1:2, they may still be appealed. The amendment to Rule 1:1 is continued clarification on when judgments become final and appealable.  

1See, e.g., Super Fresh Food Mkts. of Va. v. Ruffin, 263 Va. 555, 560
Va. Sup. Ct. R. 1:1(b)