Interlocutory Appeals – When is the Right Time?

The term itself sounds alien – “interlocutory.” It refers to interim court decisions that usually aren’t appealable. Yet, the Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rules permit parties to appeal from some interlocutory rulings. The rub is when and how, two considerations lawyers may not think about or understand. Today, we won a case in which the Superior Court concluded that it could decide an interlocutory appeal based on Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 341(c). The decision in Sawyers v. Davis is interesting because, to convince the Court, we had to carefully nuance the arguments in our brief and particularly at oral argument. The result: the plaintiff whose case was tossed gets her day in court. Click here to read the Superior Court decision in Sawyers v. Davis.

So, when can you appeal an interlocutory order? Attorneys need to closely review Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 311, which says an “appeal may be taken as of right” without a final order, namely: orders affecting judgments; orders involving attachments, change of criminal venue or venire, injunctions, peremptory judgment in mandamus, new trials, or partition; and orders relating to venue or personal or in rem jurisdiction, preliminary objections in eminent domain matters and certain Commonwealth criminal appeals. There is a catch-all for “other cases” in which an “order is made final or appealable by statute or general rule, even though the order does not dispose of all claims and all parties.” Rule 311(a)(8).

A real nuance is Rule 311(f), which specifically addresses appeals following an administrative remand. Parties may appeal as of right: “(1) an order of a common pleas court or government unit remanding a matter to an administrative agency or hearing officer for execution of the adjudication of the reviewing tribunal in a manner that does not require the exercise of administrative discretion; or (2) an order of a common pleas court or government unit remanding a matter to an administrative agency or hearing officer that decides an issue that would ultimately evade appellate review if an immediate appeal is not allowed.”

Recently, the Commonwealth Court threw out an appeal because the Environmental Hearing Board’s decision was not appealable as of right under Rule 311(f)(1). In the case, Sunoco appealed from an Environmental Hearing Board Order sending a dispute back to DEP for further consideration. The Court concluded that the appeal did not satisfy Rule 311(f)(1) or (2) because the DEP would have to exercise administrative discretion and the issue would not evade appellate review.

Additionally, Rules 312 and 1311 address interlocutory appeals by permission and require you to file a petition to permission from an interlocutory order with the statement contained in 42 Pa. C.S. § 702(b).

Determining whether you can file an interlocutory appeal can be complicated. Our office regularly assists attorneys deciding whether they can file an appeal, and can assist at any point in the litigation. Just give us a call at (610) 446-3457.

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