The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Reyher v. State Farm Mut. Automobile Ins. Co. on April 12, 2012.
Jurisdiction—Final Order—Class Action—Prevailing Party—Costs.
Plaintiffs Pauline Reyher and Dr. Wallace Brucker appealed the trial court’s order awarding costs and attorney fees to defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm), following the trial court’s dismissal of Reyher’s claims and denial of plaintiffs’ class certification motion. The order was reversed and the case was remanded with directions. During the briefing of this appeal, Reyher II was announced, reversing the dismissal of Reyher’s claims. At the time of this appeal, there were no class action claims pending in the trial court; however, the individual claims of Reyher and Dr. Brucker remained pending and unresolved.
State Farm argued that the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction over this appeal because the order awarding costs and fees was not a final, appealable order. The cost and fee order was related solely to the class certification claims and Reyher’s claims, which were both resolved by final orders pursuant to C.R.C.P. 54(b); the order was not based on any other claims pending in the trial court. Therefore, the cost and fee order was itself a final, appealable judgment.
Plaintiffs argued that the trial court prematurely determined that State Farm was the prevailing party under C.R.C.P. 54(d) based on its successful defense of class certification but before termination of the underlying litigation. The trial court erred to the extent that it awarded costs based on its misconception that it was required to do so and had no discretion in the matter. Additionally, whether a party has derived some of the benefits sought by the litigation requires an assessment in the context of the overall litigation. Therefore, because plaintiffs may yet obtain a judgment against State Farm on their individual claims, it was premature for the trial court to determine that State Farm was the prevailing party. Accordingly, the trial court erred in awarding State Farm its costs and fees as the prevailing party at this stage in the proceedings based on its purely procedural victory on the class certification. Plaintiffs also argued, State Farm conceded, and the Court of Appeals agreed that because the judgment dismissing Reyher’s claims was reversed in Reyher II, the costs and fees related to that dismissal also must be reversed.