Can a Trial Court Issue a Final Appealable Order While Reserving Jurisdiction to Award Prejudgemental Interest ?

In McGurn v. Scott, 596 So. 2d 1042 (Fla. 1992), the Court considered the issue of whether a trial court may issue a final appealable order while reserving jurisdiction to award prejudgment interest. In that case, the trial court entered a judgment awarding damages to Scott, but reserving jurisdiction to award appropriate costs, prejudgment interest, and attorneys' fees upon proper motion of the parties. Id. at 1043. McGurn then appealed. Id. Scott filed a motion with the district court requesting that it relinquish jurisdiction to the trial court to consider his motion for award of prejudgment interest. Id. The district court dismissed the appeal, stating that the judgment being appealed was not final. Id. In reviewing the issue, this Court first examined what constitutes a final judgment for purposes of appeal: It is well settled that a judgment attains the degree of finality necessary to support an appeal when it adjudicates the merits of the cause and disposes of the action between the parties, leaving no judicial labor to be done except the execution of the judgment. Final judgments or orders determine the rights and liabilities of all parties with reference to the matters in controversy and leave nothing of a judicial character to be done. Id. The Supreme Court of Florida noted, however, that the reservation of jurisdiction to award costs or attorneys' fees does not affect the finality of an underlying judgment for purposes of appeal. Id. at 1044. The rationale behind this is "that an award of attorneys' fees or costs is ancillary to, and does not interfere with, the subject matter of the appeal and, thus, is incidental to the main adjudication." Id. McGurn argued that the calculation of prejudgment interest is generally straightforward and ministerial and therefore a reservation of jurisdiction to award prejudgment interest should be treated similar to a reservation to award attorneys' fees and costs. Id. The Court disagreed, reasoning: This Court has previously held that prejudgment interest is awarded as just compensation to those who are damaged by having their property withheld from them or destroyed. Argonaut Ins. Co. v. May Plumbing Co., 474 So. 2d 212 (Fla. 1985). Thus, "prejudgment interest is merely another element of pecuniary damages." Id. at 214. An element of damages is not ancillary to the subject matter of the cause regardless of how straight-forward and ministerial the calculation of those damages may be. Therefore, the determination of prejudgment interest is directly related to the cause at issue and is not incidental to the main adjudication. Id. Thus, because the determination of prejudgment interest is directly related to the cause at issue, "by reserving jurisdiction to address the issue of prejudgment interest, the instant trial court failed to dispose of all material issues in controversy and, therefore, the order was not final." Id. In the event that a trial court wished to determine prejudgment interest separate from the determination of other damages, this Court recommended that "the trial court . . . issue an interlocutory order setting forth the damages already determined. This would in effect liquidate those damages, if not already liquidated, and interest on those damages would start to accrue." Id. Although the Court held that the trial court's order was not final, it did not agree that the appeal was premature and should have been dismissed. Id. The Court stated that ruling that the appeal was premature would create a procedural quandary: The judgment's appearance as a final order upon which execution could have issued placed McGurn in a procedural quandary. If the judgment were considered an interlocutory order, McGurn would be unable to exercise his right to both an appeal and a supersedeas to stay the enforcement of the judgment. Yet, the order granted Scott the right to let execution issue against McGurn's property. Further, had McGurn not filed the appeal, he may have been precluded from doing so at a later date. Id. at 1044-45. Therefore, the Court held: If a trial court improperly renders such a judgment which appears to be, or has the attributes of a final judgment, the order will be deemed to have become a final judgment requiring review by immediate appeal. Further, because an appellate court's jurisdiction is exclusive with respect to the subject matter of an appeal, once the appeal is taken the trial court will lack the jurisdiction to take any further action in the matter. See Willey v. W.J. Hoggson Corp., 89 Fla. 446, 105 So. 126 (1925). Thus, the parties will be deemed to have waived any matter reserved for future adjudication by the trial court, with the exception of attorneys' fees and costs. However, under Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.600(b), the district court may in its discretion direct the trial court to address matters improperly reserved if the district court decides it is equitable to do so. Id. at 1045.