Under California law, a dissatisfied litigant may appeal a decision only after the trial court has issued its final judgment. Generally, this means that if the trial court issues an order that disposes of fewer than all of the causes of action framed by the pleadings, there is not yet a final judgment, and therefore it is too early to appeal. This precept has come to be known as the “one final judgment rule.” But what should happen when a party voluntarily dismisses a cause of action without prejudice and the trial court then issues a judgment on the remaining causes of action? Is this judgment “final” enough to permit an appeal? The Second District Court of Appeal recently addressed such a situation in Kurwa v. Kislinger (2012) 204 Cal.App.4th 21, and determined that despite authority to the contrary, such judgments are in fact final and appealable.
In Kurwa, two doctors formed a corporation to jointly solicit monthly fees from HMOs in exchange for providing medical services to the HMOs’ members. When Dr. Kurwa’s license to practice medicine was temporarily suspended, Dr. Kislinger decided to terminate the joint venture and start a new corporation without Kurwa. In doing so, Kislinger appropriated assets from the two doctors’ joint venture and convinced their largest HMO client to transfer its provider agreement to the new corporation. Kurwa in turn sued Kislinger for breach of fiduciary duty and defamation, and sought an accounting. Kislinger countersued for defamation, among other things.
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