The Importance of Timely Post-Trial Motions To Protect an Appeal
“Be quick but don’t hurry.” This famous amalgamation of seemingly inconsistent concepts
by legendary college basketball coach John Wooden applies to actions that lawyers must
make after the trial court makes a dispositive ruling.
Lawyers must be “quick” to strictly file post judgment motions, like a Rule 50
Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or a Rule 59 Motion for New Trial or Alter or
Amend a Judgment, not later than fifteen days after entry of the judgment. The trial court,
in accordance with Rule 6(b), cannot extend the deadline for these motions. Thus, even
where there is a delay in obtaining supportive trial transcripts or the trial court
erroneously extends this deadline by an unopposed motion. A party can only extend these
deadlines when it did not receive notice of entry of judgment within 21 days of its entry
and when no party would be prejudiced. A lawyer will not obtain relief for filing a Rule 50 or Rule 59 Motion in accordance with an improper extension beyond the strict fifteen
day deadline, because the case law holds that a mistaken interpretation of the rules of
procedure is not the type of excuse contemplated to vacate a judgment. Even where
it amounts to a death penalty for the case.
The last article in this column discussed two recent Arizona Court of Appeals
decisions illustrating problems caused when lawyers “hurry” and file a premature notice
of appeal. Yet another such case was just decided in March where Division One
published Baker v. Bradley to further “shed light” on “the continuing problem” of
premature notices of appeal—like “disruption of the trial process, confusion over which
court…has jurisdiction, and overall inefficiency” that the Arizona Courts of Appeal still
“frequently grapple with.” Baker holds that the court of appeals has jurisdiction over an
appeal even though a notice of appeal was not filed within thirty days of the signed
judgment of dismissal but, instead, within thirty days of the prior unsigned minute entry
that dismissed the case. Baker tries to square its decision with prior cases that hold the
Court of Appeals lacks jurisdiction where the notice of appeal is premature as follows: it
has jurisdiction if “the ruling preceding the [premature] notice of appeal is a final
decision, no substantive motions or issues are pending and none are filed thereafter, and
the trial court merely enters a formal judgment consistent with its prior unsigned ruling; it
lacks jurisdiction, however, if “there were substantive motions or issues awaiting
determination at the time the premature notice of appeal is filed.” This opinion, which
contains a dissent, invites the Arizona Supreme Court to further clarify this issue.
Right or wrong, Arizona generally follows the rule that strict adherence to
procedural requirements is the best guarantee of evenhanded administration of the law.
The tri-pellate lawyer needs to know, and follow, these procedural requirements to ensure
his or her client’s rights are fully protected. These requirements also need to be
understood and followed to protect one from being sued for malpractice.