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Appellate Procedure: Finality of Order

Derek J. Harder v. Carol L. Pfitzinger, 2004 WI 102


¶15. If there are no further documents in the circuit court’s file and all substantive issues have been decided for one or more parties in an order or a judgment, there is usually less confusion about whether the time for appeal has begun to run, than when there is a subsequent court document. Our prior cases have attempted to remove confusion about when the time limits in Wis. Stat. § 808.03(1) begin to run by explaining that a party may not assume that the last document in the file is the one that is referred to in § 808.03(1). See Fredrick, 92 Wis. 2d at 688. We have cautioned that the label on the document is not controlling. Thomas/Van Dyken, 90 Wis. 2d at 241. However, confusion has continued. Therefore, in order to clarify our past decisions in regard to determining when a document is final for purposes of § 808.03(1), we hold that when a circuit court enters an order or a judgment that decides all substantive issues as to one or more parties, as a matter of law, the circuit court intended that to be the final document for purposes of appeal, notwithstanding subsequent actions by the circuit court or the label the document bears.¶16. After having clarified the meaning of Wis. Stat. § 808.03(1), we now turn our attention to the application of § 808.03(1) to the order for judgment in this case….

¶17. … The only task that remained after the circuit court issued the order for judgment7 was the determination of the amount of costs. This is generally a function of the clerk of court that does not further involve decision making8 by the circuit court, see Wis. Stat. § 814.10(1), nor does it affect the finality of the order. See, e.g., Campbell v. Campbell, 2003 WI App 8, ¶7, 259 Wis. 2d 676, 659 N.W.2d 106 (indicating that a judgment disposing of a claim is final though a request for costs is pending); see Appellate Practice, supra, § 4.7, 4-5 (indicating that a document is final if the judgment or order “leave[s] nothing to be done except taxing of costs and disbursements and enforcement by execution”);9 Thomas/Van Dyken, 90 Wis. 2d at 243 (concluding a judgment is final for purposes of appeal when it disposes of the entire action, “precluding further proceedings except enforcement by execution”). Accordingly, because it decided all substantive issues as to one or more parties, we conclude that the circuit court intended the February 28, 2003 order for judgment to be the final document for purposes of appeal, even though it was not the final document in the circuit court’s file.

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