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Bates v. Eckhardt Telecommunications
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	2002 ME 69
Docket:	Pen-01-760
on Briefs:	March 26, 2002
Decided:	April 18, 2002




	[¶1]  Linda Bates appeals from the judgment of the District Court
(Bangor, Gunther J.) granting a summary judgment in favor of Eckhardt
Telecommunications, Inc.  Bates argues that jury questions exist regarding
whether an agency relationship existed and whether the company's foreman
negligently entrusted the company vehicle to an employee.  We dismiss this
appeal for lack of a final judgment.
	[¶2]  The following facts are set forth in the parties' M.R. Civ. P. 56
statements of material facts.  In October of 2000, a car driven by Thomas
Hafford collided with a car driven by Linda Bates.  Hafford was employed by
Eckhardt Telecommunications and was driving a company vehicle.  Hafford did
not have a valid driver's license and he had been told by Dane Eckhardt, owner
of Eckhardt Telecommunications, at the time he was hired that he was
prohibited from driving any company vehicles. 
	[¶3]  On the morning of the accident, Hafford visited the home of his
foreman, Edward Pak.  Pak later left his home to go to the coast for the day,
thinking that Hafford was going to stay for a while and be picked up by a
friend.  Eckhardt had assigned Pak a company vehicle to use solely for
company business.  When Pak left for the day, he left the company vehicle at
home and the keys to the vehicle on the kitchen counter.  Although Pak did
not give Hafford permission to use the vehicle, Hafford drove away from Pak's
home in the Eckhardt vehicle.  Hafford was driving that vehicle when the
collision occurred.
	[¶4]  Bates filed suit against Eckhardt Telecommunications and Hafford. 
After a default was entered against Hafford, Eckhardt filed a motion to
continue the hearing on damages until either Eckhardt's motion for summary
judgment was granted or a trial was completed.  The District Court granted
Eckhardt's motion to continue and subsequently granted a summary judgment
in favor of Eckhardt.  Bates filed a notice of appeal, which was rejected by the
Clerk of the Law Court as interlocutory because a hearing on Hafford's
damages had not been held.  Eckhardt then filed a motion for final judgment,
which the court granted in a one-sentence order prepared by Eckhardt's
counsel.  This appeal followed.
	[¶5]  In general, appellate review is not available until a judgment
becomes final.  In re Adoption of Mathew R., 2000 ME 86, ¶ 4, 750 A.2d 1262,
1264.  In order for the court to focus its limited resources, the final judgment
rule must be applied firmly and reasonably.  Id.  In matters involving multiple
parties and multiple claims, parties may seek a certification of final judgment
"[i]n limited instances, when the resolution of one part of an action may be
dispositive of the remaining unresolved components of the action . . . ." 
Musson v. Godley, 1999 ME 193, ¶ 7, 742 A.2d 479, 481.
	[¶6]  We review a "trial court's decision to certify a claim as final
pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 54(b) for an abuse of discretion."  Dexter v. Town of
Norway, 1998 ME 195, ¶ 6, 715 A.2d 169, 171.  Rule 54(b) was designed to
allow an appeal from a decision that does not represent complete finality as to
an entire case, but because of unique facts is actually final and complete with
respect to a particular party.  In determining the propriety of certifying a claim
as final, courts weigh a variety of factors, including:  
the relationship of the adjudicated and unadjudicated claims, the
possibility that the need for review may be mooted by future
development in the trial court, the chance that the same issues
will be presented more than once to the appellate court, the
possibility that an immediate appeal might expedite the trial
court's work, and miscellaneous factors such as likely delay,
economic solvency considerations, the res judicata effect of a final
judgment, and the like.
Id. (quoting Durgin v. Robertson, 428 A.2d 65, 68 (Me. 1981)).  Unless the
court's order is explanatory, we cannot determine whether the court considered
those factors in entering a "final" judgment.  See Canal Nat'l Bank v. Becker,
431 A.2d 71, 72 n.2 (
Me. 1981).  Thus, we have previously declined to accept
Rule 54(b) certifications without explanation by the trial judge.  See, e.g.,
Citicorp Mortgage, Inc. v. Keneborus, 641 A.2d 188, 190 (Me. 1994); Key Bank of
Me. v. Park Entrance Motel, 640 A.2d 211, 212-13 (Me. 1994).
	[¶7]  In the matter before us, counsel for Eckhardt submitted for the
court's signature a single-sentence order that not only did not address the
factors required, but also did not even cite to Rule 54(b).  Thus, we cannot
determine whether the court expected the matter to be cognizable on appeal
and whether the court considered each of the factors articulated in Dexter and
Durgin.{1}  We therefore dismiss the appeal for lack of a final judgment.
	The entry is:

Appeal dismissed.
Attorney for plaintiff: Wayne P. Doane, Esq. P O Box 60 Exeter, ME 04435-0060 Attorneys for defendant: Mary F. Kellogg, Esq. Frederick J. Badger jr., Esq. Richardson, Whitman, Large & Badger, P.C. P O Box 2429 Bangor, ME 04402-2429
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . We cannot determine from the record before us whether a final judgment could be certified with respect to the summary judgment in favor of Eckhardt.