By George M. Strander
Ingham County Probate Court
Our court rules have long provided for the entry of a judgment or order at some point after the judge's verbal decision in court. This delayed entry option makes eminent sense since oftentimes (especially in a complex or highly contested case) a hearing can result in a verbal order unpredictable by the parties, thus requiring time to draft a written order for signing that reflects what was ordered in the courtroom. One popular method for such delayed entry is the so-called "Seven Day Rule" (SDR).
As the Michigan Court Rules make clear at MCR 2.602, the entry of a judgment or order is simply the dating and signing by the judge of a document containing the language and direction of a decision the judge has made. As such, the entry of a judgment or order does not concern the substantive issues in a case; by the time of entry, material issues will have already been disposed of by the judge's decision.
The SDR, laid out at MCR 2.602(B)(3), is one method by which a judgment or order can be entered. Other methods for entry of a judgment or order laid out in MCR 2.602(B) include the option of the judge signing and entering the order on the bench at the time of making the decision.
A Judge's Verbal Order
The SDR process starts with the court's 'granting of a judgment or order'. As confirmed by the Michigan Court of Appeals in Hessel v. Hessel, 168 Mich.App. 390, 424 N.W.2d 59 (1988), the SDR is not available when the court has not already granted some sort of relief. In Hessel, subsequent to the trial court's order dividing certain assets in a divorce matter, the husband moved for an amendment of the order and for the assessment of costs. After a hearing on the motions without decision by the court, and before the continuation of the trial, the husband filed a proposed final judgment of divorce incorporating the amendments and assessment sought. After seven days subsequent to filing, the proposed judgment was submitted to the judge and signed; however, two days later the judge sua sponte voided the judgment as improperly submitted.
On appeal, the husband in Hessel objected to the trial court's 'abuse of discretion' in voiding the judgment, alleging it had been properly filed under the SDR. The Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed the lower court, noting that the SDR requires that a judgment have already been granted: "In this case, not only had a judgment not yet been rendered, but defendant's proofs had not been completed."
After notice and filing of a proposed judgment or order under the SDR, the court is then in a position to consider the candidate order for entry, and perhaps also an objection to the 'accuracy or completeness' of that candidate as well as a second proposed judgment or order. Again, the premise of the rule is that the court has already issued an order and it is merely up to the parties to agree on, or discuss, the correct reflection of that order in written form. If at this stage in the SDR process a party wishes to continue to raise substantive issues, the proper avenue, as confirmed by the Court of Appeals in Riley v. 36th District Court Judge, 194 Mich.App. 649, 651, 487 N.W.2d 855, 856 (1992), is to move for reconsideration or rehearing under MCR 2.119(F).
The restriction to objections as to form has been the hallmark of this delayed-entry rule, even before the terms "accuracy" and "completeness" were added to the rule. The Court of Appeals, in perhaps the foundational opinion in Michigan's delayed-entry jurisprudence, considered the basis of the then 5-day rule on order entry--GCR 1963, 522.1(2)--in Saba v. Gray, 111 Mich.App. 304, 314 N.W.2d 597 (1981). Saba concerned a wrongful death action (filed in Wayne County) arising out of Emil Saba's drowning in a Monroe County quarry then being purchased by John Gray. Gray filed a motion to change venue, which was granted at a hearing where Saba's attorney did not appear, and Gray submitted a proposed order to change venue under the delayed entry rule of that time. Saba filed substantive objections to the proposed order, the court nonetheless entered the order, and Saba appealed.
In considering a version of the delayed entry rule that did not explicitly limit objections to ones of form, and thereby perhaps laying the foundation for the more explicit rule we have today, the Saba court affirmed the lower court's ruling and confirmed that the rule was not meant to provide "a rehearing of the substantive merits of the underlying issue." Since Saba and the reformulation of the delayed entry rule as MCR 2.602(B)(3), unpublished Court of Appeals opinions - one of them being Harter v. Harter, 2002 WL 1424838 - have built on its affirmation that the court's role under the SDR is to seek and hopefully find and enter an order which comports with a decision already earlier made.
In Harter, a divorce case, the Court of Appeals defined the limits of a court's assessment of "comporting with an earlier decision," a central concept of the SDR. The trial court in this matter made a determination regarding the custody of the divorcing couple's child, and then subsequently entered a custody order "including particulars concerning unreimbursed medical expenses, overpayments, offsets, tax deductions, and release of tort claims." The wife alleged these additional details were not part of the original decision and hence should not be included; she appealed.
Harter helps flesh out the standards in Saba and Riley. Specifically, Harter clarifies that the limits of an entered order comporting with a previous decision are a matter of scope defined by the range of issues previously taken up and potentially incorporable into a sufficiently general earlier decision.
Published: Thu, Dec 13, 2012