• May 7, 2018

When I started practicing law, I thought that all legal matters started with a complaint and an answer, then proceeded to trial, with a judgment, and then maybe an appeal.

Come to find out that there’s this whole category of “special proceedings” that are different.

Special proceedings usually start with a petition or a motion, not a complaint.  And they do not proceed the same way.  There may or may not be any right to discovery.  There may be no right to a trial with witnesses.  The timetables may be different.

Appendix A to the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure has a partial list of special proceedings.  The list includes some commonly used mechanisms, such as probate matters, condemnations, and tax proceedings.  Modification petitions in family court and arbitration matters in district court are akin to special proceedings. The list of special proceedings in Appendix A also includes some odd proceedings that you won’t run into too often.  Like “actions on orders of the state fire marshal” and “actions against boats and vessels.”

A separate provision of the appellate rules deals with appeals from decisions in special proceedings.

Appellate Rule 103(g) says that special proceeding appeals must be brought within 60 days of a final decision affecting a substantial right (unless a statute says otherwise).  Some of the statutes that apply to special proceeding specifically lay out the kinds of orders that are appealable.  And some special proceedings statutes lay out particular procedural requirements.  So it’s especially important to read the full chapter of statutes dealing with a special proceeding, so that you don’t miss anything.

There are a couple differences and pitfalls when it comes to appealing from special proceeding decisions.

First, the correct appeal may be from an order that is filed, not a judgment that is entered.  You must check the statutes that apply.

Second, the decision to be appealed must be final.  If an appeal is brought from a special proceeding decision that is not final, court staff may note the jurisdictional defect when the appeal is filed and the parties may be ordered to submit informal memoranda addressing it.  Depending on the law, the Court of Appeals may dismiss the appeal.

Third, the law on appeals after post-hearing motions presents some traps.  Appellate Rule 104.01 extends the time to appeal when a proper post-decision motion is filed (such as a motion for a new trial or a motion for amended filings).  But that rule does not apply to many special proceeding decisions.  The time to appeal is tolled where the applicable special proceeding statute says that the action is to be considered “in the same manner as in a civil action” or says that an appeal may be taken “as in other civil cases) (or something similar).  If the statute does not include this kind of magic language, the time to appeal is not tolled. So for example, the statutes governing commitments include the magic tolling language, and the statutes governing condemnation do not.  So a motion for a new trial in a commitment proceeding will toll the time to appeal and the same kind of motion in a condemnation proceeding will not.  More than one lawyer has discovered that the time to appeal has run and there is no right to appeal after wrongly bringing a post-hearing motion in a special proceeding.  Another reason you should read special proceedings statutes very closely!

[Ed. note: This post’s author, Karen Cole, will be presenting a webinar CLE on May 17, 2018 on special proceedings, along with Rod Mason and Tom Radio.  Go here for more information and to register.]

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