Massachusetts Civil Procedure Rule 58: Entry of Judgment
(a) After Trial or Hearing or by Agreement. Subject to the provisions of Rules 54(b) and 23(c): (1) upon a general verdict of a jury, or upon a decision by the court that a party shall recover only a sum certain or costs or that all relief shall be denied, or upon a written agreement for judgment for a sum certain or denying relief, the clerk, unless the court otherwise orders, shall forthwith prepare, sign and enter judgment without awaiting any direction by the court; (2) upon a decision by the court granting other relief, or upon a special verdict under Rule 49(a) or a general verdict accompanied by answers to interrogatories under Rule 49(b), the court shall promptly approve the form of the judgment, and the clerk shall thereupon enter it. Every judgment shall be set forth on a separate document; but when any party files an agreement for judgment, or a notice or stipulation of dismissal pursuant to Rule 41(a)(1), the agreement, notice, or stipulation, as the case may be, shall, upon being filed, constitute the judgment, for all purposes, and no separate document need be prepared. A judgment is effective only when so set forth or filed and when entered as provided in Rule 79(a). Entry of the judgment shall not be delayed for the taxing of costs. Attorneys shall submit forms of judgment upon direction of the court. The court, on motion, may allow a hearing on the form of the judgment.
Amended December 14, 1976, effective January 1, 1977.
Reporter's Notes (1996) With the merger of the District Court rules into the Mass.R.Civ.P., minor differences which had existed between Mass.R.Civ.P. 58 and Dist./Mun.Cts.R.Civ.P. 58 have been eliminated.
(1973) Rule 58 tracks Federal Rule 58 and works a substantial change in Massachusetts practice.
The rule deals with the ministerial act of "entry" of judgment as opposed to the judicial act of "rendition" of judgment, Its aim is to ascertain the exact date when a judgment becomes effective. That date is important because it begins the allowable period for making most of the postverdict motions included in the Rules, and (in some cases) for taking an appeal.
The provisions of the rule are subject to Rule 54(b) and Rule 23(c). Rule 54 operates as to the entry of final judgment on any issue or as to any party in a suit which involves multiple claim or multiple parties. Under Rule 54(b) the court may direct the entry of final judgment as to one or more but fewer than all of the claims, provided the court makes "an express determination that there is no just reason for delay" and "makes an express direction for the entry of judgment." Rule 23(c) prohibits dismissal or compromise of a class action without court approval.
Rule 58 contemplates two basic situations. In one, the clerk enters final judgment according to Rule 79(a) without any direction from the court; in the other, the clerk awaits the courts approval of the judgment before effectuating it by entry in the civil docket.
In case of (1) a general verdict of a jury, or (2) a determination by the court that a party shall recover only a sum certain or costs or that all relief shall be denied, or (3) a written agreement for judgment for a sum certain or denying relief, Rule 58(1) requires the clerk immediately to enter judgment on the civil docket in accordance with Rule 79(a). In these situations the clerk does not await the court's direction before entering judgment. The court, however, retains power to order otherwise where, for example, the court has before it a motion for judgment n.o.v. (Rule 50(b)) and directs that the clerk not enter judgment on a general verdict immediately. Voelkier v. Delaware, Lackawanna & Western R. Co., 31 F.Supp. 515, 516 (W.D.N.Y.1939). The language of Rule 58 and the policy underlying the prompt entry of judgment suggest that only in the most exceptional circumstances will a court not direct entry of judgment on a jury's general verdict.
Rule 58(a)(2) deals with the more complex situations where (1) a jury returns a general verdict accompanied by answers to interrogatories under Rule 49(b); (2) there is a special verdict-, or (3) the court grants "other relief." Since these areas require specific judicial resolution, the rule requires the clerk to defer entry of judgment until the court approves its form.
Even in these situations, however, Rule 58(a)(2) emphasizes speed and simplicity by requiring the court to approve the form of judgment "promptly." An example of a situation within the ambit of Rule 58(a)(2) would be a special verdict returned pursuant to Rule 49. Such a verdict merely recites the facts found. It then becomes necessary for the court to apply the law to those facts and render a judgment. Until the court has done so, the clerk is not in a position to enter it on the docket.
The requirement that every judgment "be set forth on a separate document" makes clear that a judicial opinion alone cannot serve as a directive to a clerk to enter judgment pursuant to Rule 79(a). The judgment to be effective must satisfy two conditions:
(1) It must be set out on a separate document distinct from any opinion or memorandum (unless the opinion or memorandum includes a specific order for entry of judgment); and
(2) It must be entered according to Rule 79(a).
In the absence of either of these preconditions, the judgment is not effective; any appellate procedure is premature. Thus a concluding sentence in an opinion which merely states "the complaint is dismissed" is not an effective entry of judgment by itself. The requirement that the judgment be explicitly set forth on a separate document is not limited to situations where the court writes an opinion. It extends to all judgments, whether based on jury verdict or court decision.
For purposes of the other rules the date of effective entry is crucial. For example, a motion to amend findings or make additional findings under Rule 52(b) may be made not later than 10 days after entry of judgment. A motion for a new trial under Rule 59(b), a motion to alter or amend the judgment under Rule 59(e), and the awarding of a new trial on the court's own motion are subject to the same time limitation. The specific date of the notation of the judgment by the clerk pursuant to Rule 79(a) constitutes the date of effective judgment for purposes of the above rules.
In accord with the policy of prompt entry of judgment, Rule 58 provides that the entry of judgment shall not be delayed for the taxing of costs. Thus, judgment can be entered with the notation "with costs," leaving the exact amount for later determination. "The postponement of judgment until after the amount of costs can be determined is contrary to the letter and purpose of Rule 58." Danzig v. Virgin Isle Hotel, Inc., 278 F.2d 580, 582 (3rd Cir. 1960).
Rule 58 effects a major change in Massachusetts practice. Under the previous separate procedural systems for actions at law and suits in equity, a "judgment" was a final decision at law while a "decree" was the terminal document in a suit in equity. With the adoption of Rule 2, both situations are covered by the one term: Judgment.
The practice heretofore in "equity" cases required the party in whose favor a decree was entered to submit to the court the form of the decree. S.J.C. Rule 2:44; Super.Ct. Rule 82. The last sentence of Federal Rule 58 discourages such submissions, but Massachusetts Rule 58 has been drafted to accord specifically with familiar practice.