Can a district court’s decision that does not resolve a request for contractual attorney’s fees be a “final decision” under 28 U.S.C. § 1291?
On June 17, 2011, a federal district court issued a decision on a dispute between Ray Haluch Gravel Company and the Central Pension Fund (“CPF”). Although this order addressed the central issue of whether or not Haluch owed certain contributions to CPF, it did not address attorney’s fees and costs. The district court issued a second order on June 25, 2011 on attorney’s fees and costs. CPF filed an appeal on both orders, but the thirty day statute of limitations for notice of appeal had expired on the first order. The First Circuit accepted the appeal, stating that the first order was not a “final judgment” under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 because the contractual attorney’s fees decided in the second order were an issue on the merits, rendering the second order the final judgment. Haluch argues that under Budinich v. Becton Dickinson & Company, attorney’s fees should always be considered collateral to the merits, and a separate judgment on the merits should be considered final. CPF argues that Budinich applies only to statutory fees, which are considered costs, whereas contractual fees are considered damages and therefore part of the merits, rendering any judgment that does not resolve an issue concerning the merits—i.e., damages in the form of contractual fees—a non-final judgment. The Court’s decision will clarify what constitutes a “final judgment” and guide litigants seeking to make timely appeals.
In Budinich v. Becton Dickinson & Co., 486 U.S. 196 (1988), this Court held that a district court’s decision on the merits that left unresolved a request for statutory attorney’s fees was a “final decision” under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. The question presented in this case, on which there is an acknowledged conflict among nine circuits, is whether a district court’s decision on the merits that leaves unresolved a request for contractual attorney’s fees is a “final decision” under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.
Petitioner Ray Haluch Gravel Company (“Haluch” or “the Company”) began as a gravel company and later became a landscape supply company. See Cent. Pension Fund of Int’l Union of Operating Engineers & Participating Employers v. Ray Haluch Gravel Co., 695 F.3d 4 (1st Cir.
- Alison Frankel, Reuters, Supreme Court to Resolve Circuit Split on Timing of Appeals (June 18, 2013).