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Civil Litigation Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Robert Rapp won a $803,606 judgment (in damages and prejudgment interest) and declaratory relief in his lawsuit against his former firm. The firm tendered a check in the full amount, but Rapp would not accept it or assign a release. The trial court in the underlying action signed an “Order of Satisfaction and Release of Judgment” that acknowledged full payment by the firm, and that directed the check to be held by the court registry pending Rapp’s signing of a release acceptable to the firm. The order stated that it did not affect the declaratory relief owed Rapp. Rapp objected to the order. Less than a month later, Rapp signed an “Acknowledgement of Payment and Release of Judgment,” that acknowledged the receipt of the first check, as well as a check for more than $10,000 in court costs, “in complete satisfaction of all damages, costs, or other money awarded to Rapp,” but again specifying that declaratory judgment relief was not affected. The judge approved, and the funds were released. Rapp has now appealed the judgment to this court, arguing he should have been awarded another $349,937. He argues the only way he could have appealed the damages issue was to accept full payment. HOLDING:Dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Rapp’s unconditional release of the monetary-damages portion of the judgment renders the appeal moot, the court rules, and thereby deprives the court of jurisdiction. The acceptance-of-benefits doctrine applies, which says that one who has voluntarily accepted the benefits of a judgment cannot usually appeal from that judgment. There are exceptions — 1. when reversal of the trial judgment on appeal could not possible affect the appellant’s right to the benefits secured by the judgment; and 2. when the appellee would be compelled to concede at a new trial that appellant has the right to retain those benefits regardless of the outcome of the litigation. The court says that before one of the exceptions could apply, an appellate court must first determine if it has jurisdiction over the case. Where, as here, an appeal is made from a judgment that has been unconditionally released, the court does not have jurisdiction. Rapp could have challenged the trial court’s first order on appeal, the court notes. He also could have refused to sign any release of judgment unless it expressly preserved his right to appeal. Instead he accepted the registry funds and signed a release without reserving his right to appeal and seek a greater monetary damages award. “An unconditional release of judgment operates as a total relinquishment of all rights of the judgment creditor in the judgment. It is a complete discharge of the debt created by the judgment and a complete surrender of the judgment creditor’s rights in the judgment.” Consequently, the court lacks jurisdiction. OPINION:Frost, J.; Yates, Hudson and Frost, JJ.

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