Supreme Court Action: Timeliness for Appealing A Final Order on Merits When A Pending Fee Petition Exists

The Supreme Court issued one opinion yesterday.  It is Ray Haluch Gravel Co. v. Central Pension Fund Of Operating Engineers and Participating Employers (12-992).  The case presented the issue of when a timely notice of appeal is filed when there is a judgment on the merits later followed by an order resolving the issue of attorney’s fees and other costs.  The Pension Fund conducted an audit on Haluch’s contributions which were required under ERISA and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).  The Fund concluded that there were underpayments and sued Haluch.  The District Court found for the Fund and issued an order on June 17, 2011 for payment in an amount substantially lower than sought.  The District Court issued a separate order on July 25, 2011 resolving the request for fees and other costs.  These fees were authorized under ERISA and the CBA.

The Fund filed a notice of appeal to the First Circuit on August 15, 2011.  Haluch argued that the appeal was untimely under the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure’s 30 day deadline for appealing a final judgment.  The Fund argued that the July 25th order triggered the start of the appeal window.  The Court of Appeals determined that fee petitions normally do not toll the time to file an appeal but allowed the appeal to go forward based on provisions in the CBA.  The Supreme Court reversed.

The Court cited its opinion in Budinich v. Becton Dickerson & Co., 486 U.S. 196 (1988), which held that an unresolved request for attorney’s fees under a statute did not extend the time for filing an appeal on the merits.  It stated that it didn’t matter that the fees in this case were contractual.  Budinich laid down a uniform rule in this regard and the Court affirms it here.  The Fund argued that it requested pre-litigation costs as well, such as the cost of conducting the audit and these fell outside the scope of Budinich.  The Court rejected that argument noting that these are regularly included in fee requests.  That did not change the character of the start of the time to appeal a judgment on the merits.  Justice Kennedy issued the opinion for a unanimous Court.  – Mark

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