As a general rule, an appellate court’s jurisdiction in Pennsylvania extends only to review of final orders. A litigant does have a right, however, to interlocutory appellate review of a collateral order under Pa. R. App. P. 313. A collateral order is one that: (1) is separable from and collateral to the main cause of action; (2) implicates rights that are too important to be denied review; and (3) the appellant’s claim as to that order will be lost if postponed until final judgment.
In Robert Rae and Commonwealth Funeral Consultants, 977 A.2d 1211 (Pa. 2009), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court clarified that it is more precise to think of rulings on collateral issues (and not collateral orders per se) as the things that are immediately appealable as of right. In Rae, the trial court ordered the production of a file over the defendant’s objections that (1) it was protected by the deliberative process privilege and, in any event, (2) was not relevant. The defendant appealed to the Commonwealth Court. (In Pennsylvania, unlike in some federal courts (see discussion of Mohawk supra), an order compelling the production of privileged documents is immediately appealable as a collateral order.) The Commonwealth Court ultimately rejected the defendant’s assertion that the file was privileged.
Rather than ending its review there, however, the court went on to address the relevance of the documents, and concluded that the file was not relevant to plaintiff’s cause of action, and thus, was not discoverable. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Commonwealth Court lacked jurisdiction to determine the relevance of the documents on an interlocutory basis. Rather, each prong of the collateral order test must be satisfied as to each legal issue a litigant is asking the appellate court to address on an interlocutory basis. Because there is no statutory right to interlocutory appellate review of a lower court’s determination that documents are (or are not) relevant, the Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s ruling on that issue. In doing so, the Court left open the question of whether the collateral order doctrine allows for an exercise of pendent appellate jurisdiction over issues that are “essential to the resolution of” a collateral issue over which the appellate court does have interlocutory jurisdiction.