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Vacated orders not appealable—even if some complaints were not dealt with

courtroomAn appeals court in Kentucky rejected an attempt by a licensee to continue his appeal of a disciplinary order after a court had already vacated the order (Ward v. Kentucky Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors). The licensee had raised several issues in his initial appeal and was unsatisfied with the vacated order because the court issuing the decision declined to address several of his complaints.

After licensee J. Steve Ward pled guilty to one count of sexual misconduct with a minor, the Kentucky Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors filed disciplinary charges against him. Before the hearing scheduled for his case, Ward took the unusual step of filing a parallel complaint against the board, seeking to prohibit it from proceeding.

The disciplinary process continued anyway. However, during a hearing in the parallel suit, it became known that the chair of the board had engaged in ex parte conversations with Ward’s wife, who was a witness in the disciplinary case. The case against Ward proceeded nonetheless and the board eventually suspended his license for five years and fined him $50,000.

Ward filed suit challenging the decision, and his two court cases were consolidated. A judge hearing the case, based on the board member’s conversations with Ward’s wife, wrote that the “integrity of the formal administrative process was compromised” and ordered the board to give Ward a new hearing. However, that judge did not rule on any of the other claims Ward had made in his appeal and Ward, unsatisfied, appealed its order. The case eventually made its way to a state Court of Appeals, which issued a decision written by Judge Denise Clayton.

During the appeal, the board argued that Ward had improperly appealed the lower court’s decision because that decision had not been a final, appealable order.

The court agreed. The trial court hearing Ward’s case, wrote Judge Clayton, had addressed only one of Ward’s arguments. Because a final, appealable order required the court to have addressed all of a party’s arguments, the decision to remand Ward’s case to the board could not be considered final, and thus Ward had no right to appeal on the grounds that the court had not addressed his claims.

Because the court’s decision had vacated the board’s order, no order disciplining Ward currently existed, and, therefore, he had nothing to appeal. In fact, wrote the judge, Ward now stood in the position in which he had found himself before the board even began the case against him, and the board may choose not to refile the disciplinary charges. The lower court’s decision to remand the case to the board was upheld.