Appealable Orders and Judgments in Civil Cases - FAQs

What is the difference between an order and a judgment?

An order is the district court judge's written decision.  Sometimes, the order includes findings of fact and conclusions of law, but not always.  Sometimes, the judge will specifically direct that a judgment be entered on the order, but not always.  An order may or may not be accompanied by a memorandum that explains the judge's reasoning.  The district court judge signs and dates the order.  The court administrator then files the order.  The date of filing is shown on the order and on the court administrator’s electronic register of actions.

The district court administrator enters a judgment on certain types of orders, either by preparing a separate document entitled "judgment" or "judgment roll," or by certifying entry of judgment on the order.  Usually, the certification consists of a sentence along these lines: "I hereby certify that the above findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment constitute the judgment of the court."  The district court administrator signs and dates the certification.  No judgment has been "entered" until the court administrator signs and dates the document.  The court administrator records the entry of judgment on the electronic register of actions.

How can I tell whether judgment should be entered on an order?

Sometimes, the judge will include explicit directions for the entry of judgment, saying, "Let judgment be entered accordingly," at the end of an order.  But even if that language is not included in the judge's order, the district court administrator is required to enter a judgment on certain types of orders, including orders awarding money, granting summary judgment, or dismissing an action. 

The general rule is that if a judgment is required, the underlying order is not appealable and an appeal cannot be taken until judgment has been entered by the court administrator.  Although the underlying order is not appealable by itself, the court of appeals will review it in an appeal from the resulting judgment.

How do I find out whether I have an appealable order or judgment?

Generally, appeals in civil cases are governed by the Minnesota Rules of Civil Appellate Procedure (abbreviated as "Minn. R. Civ. App. P."). Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.03 lists the most common types of orders and judgments that can be appealed, but it is not a complete list. Some statutes (laws) adopted by the legislature also permit appeals from certain types of orders and judgments. For example, the statute governing probate proceedings has a list of appealable orders and judgments. See Minn. Stat. § 525.71. In addition, the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that some other types of orders not listed in rule 103.03 can be appealed.

If there is no rule, statute, or supreme court opinion that says a certain type of order or judgment is appealable, then the court of appeals is not required to take the appeal. Pretrial rulings and some other types of decisions may not be immediately appealable, but they can be reviewed on appeal from a final judgment, after the case is done in the district court.

What types of judgments are appealable?

Generally, the trial court proceedings must be completely finished before you can appeal.  The purpose of this rule is to prevent multiple appeals arising out of the same case.  It is more efficient to have only one appeal per case, so that all of the issues can be raised and decided in a single appeal.
The majority of appeals are taken from final judgments.  A final judgment is appealable under Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.03(a).  A final judgment determines all of the remaining claims in the action, including any award of attorney fees, but note that a request for costs and disbursements is not considered to be a separate claim.  So a judgment that determines all claims is final and generally appealable, even if the award of costs and disbursements has not been decided yet.

Sometimes, partial judgments deciding only some claims or dismissing some parties are entered during a lawsuit.  Usually, partial judgments are not immediately appealable because the case is not completed in the district court.  The district court judge has the power to make some partial judgments appealable immediately by directing entry of a final partial judgment under Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure (Minn. R. Civ. P.) 54.02.  To do this, the district court judge must state in the order for judgment that there is "no just reason for delay" and must specifically direct the court administrator to enter a judgment.  If the district court judge includes that language in the order for partial judgment, then a timely appeal must be taken from the resulting partial judgment, once it has been entered by the court administrator, or you will lose your right to obtain appellate review of that judgment.

In some situations, the statute governing a proceeding may make certain judgments appealable right away.  For example, certain types of partial or "interlocutory" judgments are appealable in an action to partition real property (Minn. Stat. § 558.215).

What types of orders are appealable?

Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.03 lists various types of appealable orders.  Some of the more common ones are an order granting or refusing to grant an injunction, an order denying a new trial, a final order made in a "special proceeding," and a final order granting or denying a motion to modify child custody, parenting time, child support, or spousal maintenance. See Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.03(b), (d), (g), and (h).

Basically, a "special proceeding" is a proceeding that is not an ordinary civil action, and it is usually started by a petition or motion, rather than by serving a summons and complaint.  One of the most common examples of a special proceeding is a domestic-abuse proceeding.  A final order granting or denying a petition for an order for protection is appealable as a final order in a special proceeding.

There are other types of orders that are appealable under statutes that apply to specific types of proceedings or under a decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court.  In addition to reviewing Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.03, you must also review any statute that applies to the proceeding that you are involved with to determine whether a particular order might be appealable.

Usually, pretrial and "interlocutory" orders issued by a district court judge during the course of the proceedings are not appealable.  Examples of such nonappealable orders include discovery orders, orders granting or denying continuances, and, in family-law matters, orders granting or denying temporary relief.  Generally, although no appeal can be taken when these types of decisions are issued, the court may review them in a future appeal taken from a final judgment, once the case is done in the district court.