Interlocutory

The term “interlocutory” is used to describe something that is decided while a case is still ongoing. Over the course of a court case, issues may come up that need to be dealt with, but that do not resolve the case entirely. For example, interlocutory orders may be issued to decide more immediate issues, like custody and visitation, while a divorce case is ongoing. To explore this concept, consider the following interlocutory definition.

Definition of Interlocutory

Noun

  1. A judgment or decision that is made while a case is still ongoing.

Origin

Late 15th Century         Latin    (interloqui)

Interlocutory Appeal

An interlocutory appeal, or interlocutory review, is an appeal that is made by the parties to a case while a trial in the matter is still ongoing. An interlocutory appeal asks an appellate court to review a decision made by the trial court. The idea is that the case would be decided differently if an interlocutory review was not completed before a decision could be . What’s interesting is that, while interlocutory appeals exist, interlocutory orders are rarely appealed due to their short lifespans.

For example, an interlocutory order may be issued to prevent the parties to a case from shredding or otherwise destroying any important documents that might be related to the case. Without those documents, the case may be decided differently than if they were not made available to the court and/or lawyers. Once the case has been decided, however, the interlocutory order becomes moot. This is why, unless there are extraordinary circumstances, interlocutory orders rarely come under review.

Interlocutory Order

Interlocutory orders are orders that are issued by a court while a case is still ongoing. These orders are not meant to be final. They are simply meant to appease a situation within a situation, to resolve an issue temporarily while the case is decided on the whole. Because they are not final orders, it is very rare that an interlocutory order can be appealed. The point of an interlocutory order is to allow the case to progress by addressing an issue that otherwise would cause the case to stall.

For example, interlocutory orders are often made in cases involving real estate. If a property is about to be sold, and someone has filed a lawsuit to stop that from happening, a court can issue an interlocutory injunction. The injunction puts a temporary stop to the sale of the property until the court can make a final decision as to what should happen with the property and who should prevail on the lawsuit.

Interlocutory Judgment/Decree

An interlocutory judgment/decree is the same as an interlocutory order. An interlocutory judgment/decree is a judgment/decree issued before the trial in a case has concluded. It is meant to serve as temporary relief until the case is able to be resolved. Interlocutory judgments/decrees are most often used in divorce cases. This is because of all of the nuances that can creep up over the course of a divorce case, from the selling of the marital residence to which parent is granted custody of the children.

Interlocutory Example Involving a Police Officer

An example of an interlocutory order can be found in the matter of Calloway v. Motor Co., a case that was decided in 1972. Here, Charles Calloway, a police officer, purchased a car from Matthew Motors, Inc., the dealership that sold the car which was manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. The seat belts in the car featured a note that said the car had met all of the necessary safety requirements.

In October of 1965, while Calloway was using the car as part of his duties as a patrolman, the car skidded across wet pavement and into a power pole. Calloway’s seat belt, which had been fastened, came apart from where it attached at the floorboard. As a result, Calloway was thrown into the windshield, suffering serious and permanent injuries.

Calloway sued both Ford and Matthew Motors, claiming that Ford had made a defective car, and that Matthew Motors had failed to properly inspect it. Calloway argued that if Matthew Motors had done their due diligence and performed the inspection properly, they would have discovered the issue before it could cause anyone a potential injury. Calloway claimed that both had breached the warranty that the seat belt had met all of the necessary requirements, and he filed for damages in the amount of $100,000.

After Matthews had already filed its answer in the case, the entity requested that the court grant an interlocutory order to amend the answer. Matthews wanted to add that Calloway’s lawsuit should be denied because he did not bring the lawsuit within three years from the date the car was purchased. The court denied the request. Ford then filed a similar answer with a similar claim, despite no order permitting them to do so.

The parties continued to go back and forth, filing amended answer after amended answer (including requests to amend amended answers!) and requests to strike answers. Finally, in November 1970, the judge dismissed Calloway’s action against Ford, yet kept Matthews in the case despite Matthews asking for similar relief. Matthews then filed an appeal, citing that the judge erred in denying them permission to amend their initial answer. The Court of Appeals sided with the trial court, and the matter was escalated to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Here, the Court reversed the appellate court’s order, and ordered that the case be remanded to the lower court so that Matthews could make their amendment. Specifically, the Court held:

“On 5 May 1970, at the time of Judge Hasty’s order, both Ford and Matthews were on the same footing with reference to a plea of the statute, but thereafter, on 5 November 1970, Judge Ervin permitted Ford to plead the statute by refusing to strike the amended answer which Ford had filed without permission. Furthermore, on the same day, he allowed Ford’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed plaintiff’s action against Ford. On this record we perceive no reason why Ford should have been allowed the permission which was denied Matthews, and neither did Judge Ervin. The recitals in his order make it quite clear that he refused Matthews permission to plead the statute only because he thought he was powerless to grant permission.

When a motion addressed to the discretion of the court is denied upon the ground that the court has no power to grant the motion in its discretion, the ruling is reviewable. (Citation omitted.) Ordinarily, when the court denies such a motion as a matter of law, without the exercise of discretion, the case is remanded to the Superior Court for reconsideration as a discretionary matter. (Citation omitted.) However, in this case, since the manner in which Judge Ervin would have exercised his discretion affirmatively appears from his judgment, such reconsideration will not be necessary.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Amendment – The modification, correction, addition to, or deletion from, a legal document.
  • Injunction – A court order preventing an individual or entity from beginning or continuing an action.
  • Judgment – A formal decision made by a court in a lawsuit.

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