Yee v. Yee

Yee v. Yee, 251 Ariz. 71, 484 P.3d 650 (App. 2021).

Facts and Procedural History

Karen Choy Lan Yee (Mother) and Martin Yee (Father) were divorced in 2009, but engaged in significant post-decree litigation. In May 2018, Father filed a post-decree application for attorney’s fees and was awarded more than $59,000 in fees and costs. Mother did not file an objection.

More than a year later, in August 2019, Mother filed a Rule 85 motion for relief from the May 2018 judgment. The court denied the motion as untimely in a December 2019 minute entry. Mother then filed a Rule 83 motion to amend the December 2019 minute entry, which was also denied.

In March 2020, Mother lodged a proposed final order which contained language that “no further matters remain pending and that the judgment is entered under Rule 78(c).” Mother filed a notice of appeal two days later, appealing from the April 2018 attorney’s fees judgment, the December 2019 minute entry denying the Rule 85 motion, and the January 2020 minute entry denying the Rule 83 motion.

Father moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing that each of the post-decree rulings Mother challenges is a “special order made after final judgment,” A.R.S. § 12-2101(A)(2), meaning they were immediately appealable when issued even though they lacked a Rule 78 statement of finality.

Ruling

The court of appeals held that a ruling on a post-decree motion is a “special order made after final judgment” that is immediately appealable without a certification of finality. An order is a “special order made after final judgment” if it involves different issues than “those that would arise from an appeal from the underlying judgment” and affects “the underlying judgment by enforcing it or staying its execution.” In family court, such a special order made after final judgment is appealable regardless of whether it includes a statement of finality.

Classically, the decree is the “final judgment” in a family law case for appellate jurisdiction purposes under A.R.S. § 12-2101(A)(1). When the petition initiating the family law case seeks a determination of paternity and/or legal decision making, the order resolving those issues is the “final judgment” under A.R.S. § 12-2101(A)(1). Because this case involves post-decree motion practice, the reference throughout is to motions filed after entry of the decree.

Yee v. Yee, 251 Ariz. 71, 484 P.3d 650, 654 (App. 2021)

Applying these principles, an order resolving a Rule 85 motion in a post-decree matter is a special order made after final judgment and is immediately appealable even if it lacks finality language under Rule 78(b) or (c).

However, not every order addressing a post-decree motion or petition is appealable. “[T]he family court must have fully resolved all issues raised in a post-decree motion or petition before an appeal can be taken under A.R.S. § 12-2101(A)(2).”

The May 2018 judgment for attorney’s fees fully resolved all issues raised in the post-decree motion, and was therefore immediately appealable even without Rule 78(b) or (c) language. Mother’s notice of appeal years later was therefore untimely.

The court also held that Rule 83 is limited to a motion to alter or amend a Rule 78(b) or (c) judgment. A Rule 83 motion must be filed within 25 days “after the entry of judgment under Rule 78(b) or (c).” In other words, “a Rule 83 motion challenging a post-decree order or any ruling other than a Rule 78(b) or (c) judgment is improper and can provide no basis for relief.”