From the desk of Jeff Eberhard: When is enough, enough?
Claims Pointer: It’s no secret that trials can be expensive, time-consuming, and unpredictable, especially when you are forced to defend against frivolous claims. This case emphasizes that until a final judgment is entered, the case is not over. Read on to find out why the Court of Appeals refused to rule on a trial court’s denial of a beleaguered defendant’s motion to dismiss after a third hung jury.
Taylor v. Portland Adventist Medical Center, 269 Or App 151 (2015).
Dixie L. Taylor sued Portland Adventist Medical Center for the negligent discharge of her mother without proper diagnosis or treatment. Taylor tried her case before three juries, each of which resulted in a hung jury. After the third trial, Taylor requested a fourth trial date, to which defendant objected and moved for a judgment of dismissal. The trial court denied the motion, stating that it lacked jurisdiction. Portland Adventist appealed under ORS 19.205(2), which allows for an appeal despite a final judgment or order where the “order in an action that affects a substantial right, and that effectively determines the action so as to prevent a judgment in the action.”
The Appellate Commissioner (which reviews notices of appeal and motions for procedural compliance) responded to Portland Adventist’s appeal with an order to show cause why ORS 19.205(2) applied, specifically requesting that Portland Adventist identify a “substantial right.” Portland Adventist responded that that under the “extremely unusual procedural posture” of the case, which had resulted in three mistrials due to the juries’ inability to arrive at a verdict, the trial court’s order denying its motion to dismiss constituted in “a decision that this litigation can be perpetuated indefinitely by plaintiff with no recourse or relief for defendant.” Portland Adventist pointed out that it had incurred the expense and burden of three trials already and that there was no reason for a fourth trial when three juries had already failed to rule in Plaintiff’s favor. Portland Adventist also argued that the trial court’s denial of its motion to dismiss denied it of its right to a jury trial because it denied finality.
After considering Portland Adventist’s response to the order to show cause, the Appellate Commissioner issued an order allowing the appeal to proceed and stated that “under the unusual circumstances of this case, the trial court’s order does affect the parties’ substantial rights and, in effect, prevents entry of judgment, at least for the reasonably foreseeable future.”
Portland Adventist made essentially the same arguments to the Court of Appeals as it did to the Commissioner. The Court of Appeals rejected Portland Adventist’s arguments, holding that the trial court’s order did not prevent a judgment because such a conclusion would require the court to assume that Taylor would continue to try her case before a jury and that each trial would result in a hung jury. The court refused to make either assumption. The court concluded that while it recognized the unusual situation and burden that the proceedings had placed on Portland Adventist, it lacked jurisdiction to decide the matter.
Case updates are intended to inform our clients and others about legal matters of current interest. They are not intended as legal advice. Readers should not act upon the information contained in this article without seeking professional counsel.