In a civil case there can be more than one claim. For example, a plaintiff might sue a defendant for breach of contract and a tort. Perhaps the defendant has counterclaims against the plaintiff.
When a judge dismisses some, but not all the claims in the case, we call this a partial dismissal.
Appealing Partial Dismissals
As a general rule, parties cannot appeal until the trial level court enters final judgment on all the claims.
There are two general circumstances in the federal court system where a party can appeal a partial dismissal before the entire case ends: (1) when a court enters final judgment on the claims it dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Procedure 54(b); and (2) when a court certifies an interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292.
In the federal courts, Rule 54(b) provides that if a district court (a trial level federal court) decides there is no “just reason for a delay,” a judge can enter a final judgment on some but not all of the claims and the losing parties can then appeal the court’s decision on these claims.
Courts may enter final judgment on some but not all claims pursuant to 54(b) if those claims are not inextricably linked with the other claims in the case.
Let’s say we have three claims in a case and the judge dismisses one of the claims. This claim is not inextricably linked to the other two claims in the case. A court is likely to enter a final judgment on the claim that it dismissed so the losing party can appeal.
28 USC 1292
28 USC 1292 provides circumstances where a party can appeal before the entry of final judgment on all claims in a case.
First, 28 USC 1292(a) provides that a party can appeal orders granting, dissolving, modifying etc. injunctions. In addition, a party may appeal certain types of claims involving admiralty law and receiverships without waiting until the entire case ends.
Second, 28 USC 1292(b) provides that a district court may certify an issue for interlocutory appeal, and an appellate court may choose to hear the matter on appeal, if the issue:
“involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation”
In other words, if the district court reaches a decision on an issue but there is a significant dispute on the issue, then the court might want to allow the issue to go to an an appellate court for review now, instead of waiting until the case ends.