In this post, we discuss a recent court decision regarding appeal deadlines in federal court that may present a potential trap for the unwary.
The usual situation.
Most final judgments of a federal district court can be appealed to the federal circuit court that embraces that particular district court.
For example, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit embraces Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. So, appeals from the district courts in those states go the Fifth Circuit for review.
Under Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, most appeals are taken by filing a notice of appeal with the district court within thirty (30) days of the entry of the district court’s final judgment.
Certain post-trial motions will toll (or delay) the deadline for filing the notice of appeal until after the district court rules on those motions.
Rule 4 states:
If a party files in the district court any of the following motions under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure – and does so within the time allowed by those rules – the time to file an appeal runs for all parties from the entry of the order disposing of the last such remaining motion:
(i) for judgment under Rule 50(b);
(ii) to amend or make additional factual findings under Rule 52(b), whether or not granting the motion would alter the judgment;
(iii) for attorney’s fees under Rule 54 if the district court extends the time to appeal under Rule 58;
(iv) to alter or amend the judgment under Rule 59;
(v) for a new trial under Rule 59; or
(vi) for relief under Rule 60 if the motion is filed no later than 28 days after the judgment is entered.
Seems straight-forward enough.
Enter Edwards v. 4JLJ, LLC
On September 21, 2020, the Fifth Circuit issued its opinion in Edwards v. 4JLJ, LLC.
In that case, a group of employees sued for overtime wages. The jury returned a verdict for the employer.
After the verdict, the employees filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, a motion for new trial. They did so on March 12, 2019.
That motion was clearly one that, under Rule 4, would toll the deadline to appeal.
On March 27, 2019, the district court entered final judgment in favor of the employer. The court did not address the employees’ pending motion.
Rule 4 plainly states that “the time to file an appeal runs for all parties from the entry of the order disposing of the last such remaining motions.”
The employees filed their notice of appeal on June 12, 2019. (The opinion is not completely clear, but this seems to have happened after the district court denied a separate, post-trial motion.)
Was the appeal timely?
The Fifth Circuit says “no”
Notwithstanding the language in Rule 4, the Court invoked the doctrine of “implicit denial.”
Specifically, the Court ruled that when the district court entered final judgment on March 27, it “implicitly” denied the employees’ motion even though the district court never mentioned it.
Thus, the deadline to appeal was 30 days after the March 27 final judgment.
What about that other post-trial I mentioned. Did it not toll the deadline to appeal?
Nope, because it was a re-filed motion. The employees had filed a motion that was denied by the district court. They re-filed it, apparently as a motion for reconsideration.
Relying on prior precedent, the Fifth Circuit held that while the filing of certain post-trial motions tolls the deadline for appeal, the re-filing of a substantially similar motion does not toll the time to appeal.
Thus, the employees missed a deadline that, in all likelihood, they lawyer did not know was running.
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