Failure to Timely Appeal Results in Dismissal

 In Wright v. Dunlap, No. M2014-00238-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 30, 2014), a jury rendered a defense verdict in plaintiff’s car crash case. The trial court entered a judgment dismissing the case, and then Plaintiff’s case was dismissed on appeal because of her failure to take appropriate action within 30 days following entry of the trial court’s judgment.

After the entry of an adverse final judgment, Tennessee law requires that a notice of appeal be filed within 30 days from the entry of the judgment. However, there are various motions a party can file with the trial court that will extend the deadline to file the notice of appeal as long as the motions are filed within 30 days of the judgment. These motions are listed in Tenn. R. App. P. 4(b) and Tenn. R. Civ. P. 59.01. Once the trial court rules on the motion, the party then has 30 days from the entry of the order on the motion to file the notice of appeal.

The trial court’s judgment was entered on October 11, 2013. Plaintiff’s Rule 59 motion to alter or amend was filed more than thirty days later on November 15, 2013. Plaintiff argued on appeal that the Rule 59 motion was timely because a duplicate judgment virtually identical to the October 11, 2013 judgment was entered on October 22, 2013. However, the appellate court disagreed. Tennessee case law holds that where two substantially identical judgments are entered, the time for filing a notice of appeal or Rule 59 motion begins to run upon entry of the first judgment. Ball v. McDowell, 288 S.W.3d 833, 838 (Tenn. 2009). The later entry of a virtually identical judgment that doesn’t affect the parties’ substantive rights or obligations resolved by the first judgment does not extend the time for filing a Rule 59 motion or notice of appeal.

Furthermore, the appellate record indicated that plaintiff’s notice of appeal was not filed until February 3, 2014, more than 30 days after entry of the trial court’s order of December 30, 2013 dismissing plaintiff’s Rule 59 motion. The appellate court observed, however, that plaintiff did file a different notice of appeal on January 29, 2014, but that notice was not included in the record. Regardless, the appellate court dismissed plaintiff’s case because even if the notice of appeal was filed within 30 days after entry of the December 30, 2013 order, plaintiff’s prior Rule 59 motion was still untimely and thus did not extend the time period for filing her notice of appeal. 

In conclusion, the court of appeals reiterated (and warned) that the thirty day time limit for filing a notice of appeal is mandatory and jurisdiction and cannot be waived or extended by the court. 

This was a pro se appeal and demonstrates once again the danger of attempting to prosecute or defend a case without the benefit of a lawyer.