Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) Means What it Says: A Final Judgment on Less Than All Claims May be Entered Only if “There is No Just Reason for Delay”

Elliott v. Archdiocese of New York, 682 F.3d 213 (3d Cir. 2012).  Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) states that a district court may direct entry of a final judgment as to fewer than all claims or parties, which would allow an immediate appeal, “only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay.”  This lengthy opinion by Judge Greenberg (no relation), in a case involving allegations of sexual abuse of a minor child, dismisses an appeal for lack of jurisdiction because the district court, which had granted motions to dismiss the complaint filed by four of the five defendants, entered a purported final judgment without having found that “there is no just reason for delay.”

Generally, somewhat similar, in broad outline, to the rule in New Jersey state court, “an order which terminates fewer than all claims pending in an action or claims against fewer than all the parties to an action does not constitute a ‘final’ order” for purposes of appellate jurisdiction.  Rule 54(b) “attempts to strike a balance between the undesirability of piecemeal appeals and the need for making review available at a time that best serves the needs of the parties.”  But review is available only when “the district court properly granted 54(b) certification.”

Here, the district court did not do so.  There was no finding of no just reason for delay, as Rule 54(b) expressly requires.  Judge Greenberg emphasized that this requirement “is not merely formalistic.”  A district court must make the “no just reason for delay” finding and provide “a brief reasoned statement” in support of that determination.  The court need not “use the talismanic phrase ‘there is no just reason for delay,'” as long as “the district court’s order clearly contains the ‘express’ determination Rule 54(b) requires.”

Because the district court had not expressly determined that there was no just reason for delay, the Rule 54(b) certification was not sufficient to confer jurisdiction on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to hear an appeal.  The panel dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, but without prejudice to plaintiff’s right to seek a proper Rule 54(b) certification on remand and then to appeal again.