Last Wednesday, the South Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that you generally can’t appeal or seek to alter and amend an order entered against your co-defendants. You are not “aggrieved” by the orders. Gathers v. Wright, Op. No. 2014-UP-124 (S.C. Ct.App. filed March 19, 2014).
In Gathers, Gathers filed a quiet-title action against McKnight and over a dozen members of the Wright family. McKnight counterclaimed for adverse possession, reimbursement of taxes, and foreclosure of mortgage. He then, however, dropped his claim for adverse possession.
Gathers moved for summary judgment against the Wright family — without naming McKnight as a party to the motion. The trial court granted the motion and ordered that Gathers have fee-simple title to the property. McKnight moved the court to alter or amend the order to rule of his remaining counterclaims and grant him a first right of refusal. The trial court denied the motion and ruled that McKnight lacked the right of first refusal.
On further review, the Court of Appeals dismissed McKnight’s appeal and vacated the ruling that he lacked a first right of refusal.
Only a party aggrieved by an order, judgment, sentence or decision may appeal — Rule 201(b), SCACR.
The Court first held that McKnight could not appeal the order granting Gathers fee-simple title because McKnight was not aggrieved by it. The Court reasoned that McKnight was not bound by the order because he was not a party to the motion and had already dropped his adverse possession claim. Because McKnight’s remaining claims did not involve title to the property, he remained free to litigate his claims.
Lastly, the Court vacated the trial court’s ruling that McKnight lacked a first right of refusal. The Court reasoned that the ruling was made on McKnight’s motion to alter or amend and that the motion was not properly before the trial court. Because McKnight was not a party to the summary judgment proceedings, he could not properly ask that the summary judgment order be altered.
So what is the lesson? Don’t consider yourself bound by orders entered against co-parties. If you are not a party to a particular motion, you should remain free to litigate your issues and claims. And this makes it tough to appeal.
Still, orders entered against co-parties may prejudice you down the road. Orders do not have to bind to prejudice. So you may consider moving to intervene in the motion if an adverse ruling will later make life more difficult.
Have you all ever been haunted by orders entered against co-parties? What did you do?