Justice MULLARKEY delivered the Opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari in Jones v. Feiger, Collison & Killmer, 903 P.2d 27 (Colo.App. 1994), to review the court of appeals' reversal of the jury verdict in that case. Because we hold that the court of appeals cannot review an order of the trial court denying summary judgment, we reverse and remand the case to the court of appeals for return to the trial court with instructions to reinstate the jury verdict.
George Jones (Jones), the respondent/cross-petitioner, was employed by a large investment company as an executive with the title of Senior Vice President until he was terminated by his employer in July of 1990. In October 1990, Jones retained the law firm of Feiger, Collison & Killmer (Feiger), the petitioner/cross-respondent, to represent him in an action against his former employer for wrongful discharge (the underlying action). Jones believed that the discharge was precipitated by his expressed concerns that certain instructions he was receiving from his superior in New York were illegal. The parties entered into a representation agreement which mixed elements of a contingent fee agreement and straight hourly compensation at a reduced rate.
5. The law firm is not to settle any of the client's claims without the consent of the client. The client agrees to consider seriously any recommendation of settlement that the law firm makes. The client agrees not to refuse unreasonably to settle his claims should such an opportunity arise. The client agrees not to accept any settlement which involves the waiver of the right to receive reasonable attorneys fees unless the firm agrees thereto.
13. The client agrees that the law firm shall have the right to withdraw from the case ... (a) upon the client's non-cooperation; or (b) for any other justifiable reason, including the client's failure to comply with any provisions of this agreement.... At the time of withdrawal ... the client will pay Feiger, Collison & Killmer an amount for fees and costs sufficient to equal 100% of their normal hourly rates as reflected in Exhibit A.
In his complaint in the underlying action, Jones sought damages in the amount of $5,256,952. Trial was set for October 28, 1991. In the summer of 1991, Jones and the employer intensified negotiations to settle their employment dispute. The negotiations were facilitated by a mediator. Initially, Jones and his former employer proposed settlement figures that were very far apart (Jones sought $5.2 million, the employer offered $375,000). Indeed, by the close of mediation, the employer had dropped its offer to $325,000. The course of negotiations continued and Jones counter-offered $1.475 million with the understanding, after consultation with Feiger, that if the difference was split down the middle, he was "bracketing" $900,000 as a negotiating figure. At one point, a Feiger attorney proposed $800,000 to the employer. Although his trial testimony was somewhat confusing on this crucial point, Jones claims that he did not authorize this proposal. When the employer acceded to that amount, Jones appeared to consider it a satisfactory amount in settlement of his claims although testimony at trial was conflicting on this point. However, the day following the offer, Jones rejected the $800,000 settlement amount. Jones claimed that his rejection was premised on the employer's terms and conditions. The Feiger attorneys testified, however, that, while initially elated with the amount, the following day Jones flatly rejected the $800,000 offer as too little regardless of the terms and conditions.
On August 23, 1991, Feiger sent Jones a letter formalizing its strong recommendation that he accept the $800,000 offer and characterizing that offer as a reasonable settlement amount. The letter further reminded Jones that, under the representation agreement, he was not to "refuse unreasonably to settle [his] claims should the opportunity arise" and that his refusal to consider the $800,000 was indeed "unreasonable." See supra p. 1246 (quoting the relevant portions of the settlement agreement). Jones then retained another attorney, without discharging Feiger, to assist him in negotiating the settlement and with his dealings with Feiger. Meanwhile, the employer's $800,000 offer lapsed.
Subsequently, with Feiger's assistance, Jones and the employer settled for $800,000 under an agreement providing for terms and conditions which differed from the previous offer. Nevertheless, Jones refused to pay Feiger as stipulated under the representation agreement. Instead, Jones initiated this action against Feiger, contending that by proposing the $800,000 amount, Feiger effectively capped the settlement amount, forcing Jones to ultimately accept the $800,000 figure. This formed the backbone for Jones's claim that Feiger breached its fiduciary duty to him and also breached the representation agreement.
Feiger counterclaimed for legal fees due to it under the representation agreement. Jones moved for partial summary judgment, arguing that the representation agreement was void for public policy reasons because it limited his control over settlement. The trial court denied the motion, ruling that there were material issues of fact, connected to the public policy issue, which precluded summary judgment. The case went to trial and the
On Jones's appeal after trial, the court of appeals reversed the trial court's denial of summary judgment, holding that because the denial was based on a point of law, it was a reviewable final order. The court of appeals then reached the merits of the public policy issue and found that the representation agreement violated public policy as a matter of law. Although the court of appeals vacated the judgment, it awarded Feiger payment in quantum meruit for services rendered to Jones and remanded to the trial court for a determination of the amount due to Feiger under that legal theory.
Feiger petitioned this court for certiorari review of the court of appeals' reversal, contending that (1) the court of appeals could not reverse a denial of a motion for summary judgment after trial, and (2) the court of appeals erred in holding that the representation agreement violated public policy. Jones cross-petitioned, arguing that the court of appeals could not award Feiger fees in quantum meruit once it had found that the representation agreement violated public policy.
We now hold, as a threshold matter, that the court of appeals cannot entertain an appeal of the trial court's denial of summary judgment regardless of whether the denial was based on a point of law or fact. Because Jones failed to preserve his public policy argument for appeal, the court of appeals erred in addressing that issue. Thus, we do not reach the merits of the public policy issue nor Jones's cross-petition issue.
A motion for summary judgment is appropriate under C.R.C.P. 56(c) "only when the pleadings, affidavits, depositions, or admissions show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Civil Serv. Comm'n v. Pinder, 812 P.2d 645, 649 (Colo.1991); see also Graven v. Vail Assocs., 909 P.2d 514, 516 (Colo.1995) ("Summary judgment is a drastic remedy and is never warranted except on a clear showing that there exists no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.") (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A denial of a motion for summary judgment is not a final determination on the merits and, therefore, is not an appealable interlocutory order. Manuel v. Fort Collins Newspapers, Inc., 631 P.2d 1114, 1116 (Colo. 1981); see also Glennon Heights, Inc. v. Central Bank & Trust, 658 P.2d 872, 875 (Colo. 1983) ("a denial of a motion for summary judgment is not an appealable order when it does not otherwise put an end to the litigation"). As stated by the United States Supreme Court, a denial of summary judgment "is strictly a pretrial order that decides only one thing—that the case should go to trial." Switzerland Cheese Ass'n v. E. Horne's Market, Inc., 385 U.S. 23, 25, 87 S.Ct. 193, 195, 17 L.Ed.2d 23 (1966) (further noting that precluding interlocutory appeals of such orders prevents piecemeal appeals).
In Manuel, we explained that review of a denial of a summary judgment motion is not available in the majority of jurisdictions even after a trial on the merits. 631 P.2d at 1116 (citing cases); see also R.F. Chase, Annotation, Reviewability of Orders Denying Motion for Summary Judgment, 15 A.L.R.3d 899 (1967 & Supp.1996). In joining the majority of jurisdictions precluding such review, we were persuaded by the reasoning expressed in an Arizona case, Navajo Freight Lines v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 12 Ariz.App. 424, 471 P.2d 309 (1970), because:
Manuel, 631 P.2d at 1117 (quoting Navajo Freight Lines, 471 P.2d at 313).
Here, in holding that the denial of a motion for summary judgment is an appealable order after trial, the court of appeals distinguished between motions denied on the basis of a point of law and motions denied on the basis of material facts in controversy. Based on this distinction, the court of appeals found that our decision in Manuel was not controlling:
Jones, 903 P.2d at 32 (citations omitted).
Instead, the court of appeals found that: "The logic in not reviewing a denial of summary judgment based on the existence of disputed facts—to prevent a decision based on less evidence from prevailing over one reached on more—does not apply when the denial is based on a point of law." Id. The court of appeals primarily relied on Navajo Freight Lines, cited and quoted by us in Manuel, in reaching this conclusion. Jones, 903 P.2d at 32.
The court of appeals also cited four other decisions to bolster its holding. All four distinguish between the appealability of a summary judgment denial based on a point of law and the nonappealability of a summary judgment denial based on disputed issues of material facts. See Larsen v. Pacesetter Sys., Inc., 74 Haw. 1, 837 P.2d 1273, 1283 (1992) (in Hawaii "an appeal lies from a court order which resolves a motion for summary judgment as a question of law" but not on the basis of material issues of fact in dispute); Gumm v. Combs, 302 S.W.2d 616, 617 (Ky. 1957) (appeal of a denial of summary judgment based on law "unlike one of fact, may not be again presented or retried in the proceedings"); Magill v. Owen Constr. Co., 434 So.2d 520, 521 (La.Ct.App.1983) (to hold that a denial of summary judgment based on the resolution of a legal issue cannot be appealed "could effectively deny a litigant any opportunity to have an erroneous ruling of this nature by a trial judge ever corrected"); Payless Drug Stores Northwest v. Brown, 300 Or. 243, 708 P.2d 1143, 1145 (1985) (holding that a denial on the basis of constitutionality of a statute can be reviewed since such a contention is not aided or defeated by evidence at trial).
Judge Ruland dissented to that part of the court's decision pertaining to the reviewability of the denial of summary judgment. While recognizing that this court has yet to address this specific issue, he nevertheless concluded that "there are sound reasons for consistent application of the rule in Manuel." Jones, 903 P.2d at 36 (Ruland, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Among those reasons that he found persuasive were: (1) continuation of a clear rule for litigants to follow; (2) interpretation consistent with federal rules; and (3) preventing the nonprevailing party from casting the summary judgment ruling as one rendered on a point of law. Id. Judge Ruland further noted that the distinction drawn by the majority of the court of appeals would require developing a body of law separating rulings that could be appealed from rulings that could not be appealed. Id.
As noted by one federal appellate court, "[o]nce trial begins, summary judgment motions effectively become moot." Daigle v. Liberty Life Ins. Co., 70 F.3d 394, 397 (5th Cir.1995). Summary judgment is not a final decision on the merits as is generated by a verdict at the close of trial. Therefore, the appropriate means of redress for the losing movant, in a situation where the verdict is adverse to the movant, is a motion addressed to the verdict, rather than the earlier order denying summary judgment. See Watson v. Amedco Steel, Inc., 29 F.3d 274, 278 (7th Cir.1994) (refusing to "step back in time to determine whether a different judgment may have been warranted on the record at summary judgment" and instead, noting that the "merits should be judged in relation to the fully-developed record emerging from [the] trial"). In our view, this holds true for denials of summary judgment regardless if based on disputed issues of fact or points of law.
This conclusion is not contrary to our recent decision in Lakewood v. Brace, 919 P.2d 231 (Colo.1996). In Lakewood, following the United States Supreme Court's mandate in Johnson v. Jones, ___ U.S. ___, 115 S.Ct. 2151, 132 L.Ed.2d 238 (1995), we carved out a limited exception to the general rule of nonappealability of denials in the context of a motion based on the jurisdictional defense of qualified immunity. Thus, in Lakewood, we recognized that because qualified immunity is immunity from suit, a denial of a motion for summary judgment raising the defense of qualified immunity is subject to an interlocutory appeal unless based on a finding of a genuine triable issue of material fact. Our holding in Lakewood, however, is not relevant here. Lakewood created only a narrow exception in the context of a jurisdictional defense and an appeal that would typically be taken prior to trial on the merits. And, while a fact/law distinction is pertinent in the Lakewood scenario, it should not be universally applicable to all denials of summary judgment motions.
The court of appeals' analysis requiring a fact/law distinction makes the unrealistic assumption that a trial court's order denying summary judgment can be categorized on that basis. Moreover, it ignores those denials that are based on mixed grounds. For example, here, Feiger contends that the court of appeals misconstrued the trial court's ruling, i.e., the ruling was premised on the basis of disputed facts rather than on a point of law. While our disposition of this case obviates the need to address Feiger's contention, we note that the trial court's order here is illustrative of the types of problems that arise in trying to ascertain the basis for a denial. The trial court ruled in relevant part as follows:
Matters having to do with reasonableness are uniquely inappropriate for summary judgments. They have to do much more with interpretations of facts than with interpretations of law. The court is not satisfied that this contract on its face is void as against public policy, and the court
We now hold that the propriety of a summary judgment denial is not appealable after a trial on the merits regardless of whether the denial is premised on a point of law or material issues of fact in controversy. This holding comports with the purpose of a summary judgment motion—to expeditiously dispose of cases that can be decided without the expense and delay associated with trial at an early stage in the litigation. This objective is no longer achievable after a full trial on the merits. See Bigney v. Blanchard, 430 A.2d 839, 842 (Me.1981) (once denied, "this preliminary procedural device ... has fulfilled its purpose and spent its force, and has become what is known in the law as functio officio"). Precluding appeal of a denial recognizes that summary judgment is a drastic remedy to be used only sparingly and cautiously. See Graven, 909 P.2d at 516. In particular, foreclosing appellate review of a trial court's determination that a trial on the merits is warranted underscores the principle that a summary judgment motion appropriately is granted only in the clearest of circumstances and reinforces the understanding that the trial court is best-situated to render that determination in the first instance. This position fosters judicial efficiency by sparing appellate courts from unnecessary, time-consuming piecemeal appeals. And, further, saves appellate courts the onerous task of separating summary judgment denials on factual grounds versus legal grounds. In sum, the fact/law dichotomy proposed by the court of appeals is unworkable, unreliable, and unnecessary. As aptly stated by the Fifth Circuit:
Black v. J.I. Case Co., 22 F.3d 568, 571 n. 5 (5th Cir.) (citations omitted), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 115 S.Ct. 579, 130 L.Ed.2d 494 (1994).
In so concluding, we need not determine what actions Jones was required to take in order to preserve his appeal from the denial of summary judgment.
The Supreme Court of Wyoming recently considered this very issue in Cargill, Inc. v. Mountain Cement Co., 891 P.2d 57 (Wyo. 1995). In Cargill, the court explained that, in the context of the two-pronged summary judgment analysis:
Cargill, 891 P.2d at 61.
In order to preserve the public policy issue for appeal, Jones had to make a motion for a directed verdict or for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Jones failed to take either action. Nor did Jones rely on public policy as a defense to the enforceability of the representation agreement at trial.
While Jones all but concedes that he did not properly preserve the public policy argument for appellate review, he asserts that whether a contract violates public policy is not an issue that can be waived for appeal by procedural deficiency. Jones takes the position that this court should sua sponte determine whether or not the representation agreement is void for public policy reasons. In support, Jones cites three Colorado cases, Elliott v. Joyce, 889 P.2d 43 (Colo.1994); Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Roma, 97 Colo. 493, 50 P.2d 1142 (1935); and Russell v. Courier Printing & Publishing Co., 43 Colo. 321, 95 P. 936 (1908). We do not agree with Jones that these cases compel us to review the representation agreement for a possible public policy violation under circumstances where that issue has not been preserved for appellate review.
In Elliott, the trial court ruled that if a contingency fee agreement is abandoned by the parties, an attorney can recover on an implied contract. The court of appeals reversed, holding that if an attorney voluntarily withdraws, the client has no obligation to pay the attorney unless there is a contractual provision creating the obligation or an independent agreement to do so. We granted certiorari to consider whether rules governing
In both Metropolitan and Russell, this court had before it blatant examples of contracts serving an illegal purpose. In Metropolitan, the life insurance contract at issue sought to indemnify the insurer for loss of life or property resulting from intentional and deliberate lawlessness (the insured was a known leader of an underworld gang). Thus, this court concluded that:
Metropolitan, 97 Colo. at 497, 50 P.2d at 1144.
In Russell, this court held that the contract before it had a "tendency" which was "evil" because it tempted one of the parties to resort to improper means in fulfilling its contractual obligations. Although Russell did not arise in the context of preservation of an issue for appellate review, Jones quotes from the following language in that decision to support his contention that a contract is voidable for public policy reasons for the good of the public rather than merely at the behest of one of the contracting parties:
Russell, 43 Colo. at 325-26, 95 P. at 938.
While we agree that this court does have sua sponte power to review a contract for violation of public policy for the good of the public,
For the foregoing reasons, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the case to that court for return to the trial court with instructions to reinstate the jury verdict in Feiger's favor.
Navajo Freight Lines, 471 P.2d at 313.
Jones, 903 P.2d at 33.
We are not convinced that this statement is inconsistent with the trial court's earlier ruling finding that there were outstanding questions of fact as to reasonableness that prevented it from granting summary judgment on the public policy issue. See supra pp. 1249-1250 (quoting the relevant portions of the trial court's ruling on Jones's motion for partial summary judgment). Even if it was, arguably, a confusing statement, Jones's counsel did not seek clarification from the trial court and did not ask any questions. In fact, Jones's counsel appeared to agree with the statement and only Feiger's counsel probed further. However, regardless of any possible confusion, Jones was not thereby precluded from making a motion for a directed verdict, or, after the jury verdict, a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.