The facts of Ray Haluch Gravel Co. v. Cent. Pension Fund of Int'l Union of Operating Engineers & Participating Employers, 134 S. Ct. 773 (2014)are straightforward. Petitioner Ray Haluch Gravel Co. (“Haluch”) is a landscape supply company required to pay contributions to union-affiliated benefit funds under a collective-bargaining agreement. Respondents are various funds who sued under ERISA for the required contributions. During the lower court proceedings, the district court entered judgment on the merits in favor of the funds. At the time the judgment was entered, the funds had an outstanding motion for attorney’s fees. Following a ruling on the funds’ motion for attorney’s fees, the funds appealed from both decisions.
In the court of appeals, Haluch argued that there was no timely appeal on the merits since the notice of appeal was filed more than 30 days after the judgment. The funds argued that the appeal was timely because it was filed within 30 days of the decision on attorney’s fees. The First Circuit agreed with the funds, resolving an issue of first impression in that circuit. 695 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2012).
The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the conflict in the courts of appeals over whether an unresolved issue of attorney’s fees can prevent a judgment on the merits from becoming “final.” Compare O & G Indus., Inc. v. Nat’l Railroad Passenger Corp., 537 F.3d 153, 167, 168, and n.11 (2d Cir. 2008); United States ex rel. Familian Nw., Inc. v. RG & B Contractors, Inc., 21 F.3d 952, 954–955 (9th Cir. 1994); Cont’l Bank, N.A. v. Everett, 964 F.2d 701, 702–703 (7th Cir. 1992); and First Nationwide Bank v. Summer House Joint Venture, 902 F.2d 1197, 1199–1200 (5th Cir. 1990), with Carolina Power & Light Co. v. Dynegy Mktg & Trade, 415 F.3d 354, 356 (4th Cir. 2005); Brandon, Jones, Sandall, Zeide, Kohn, Chalal & Musso, P.A. v. MedPartners, Inc., 312 F.3d 1349, 1355 (11th Cir. 2002) (per curiam ); Gleason v. Norwest Mortgage, Inc., 243 F.3d 130, 137–138 (3d Cir. 2001); and Justine Realty Co. v. Am. Nat. Can Co., 945 F.2d 1044, 1047–1049 (8th Cir. 1991).
In an opinion by Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court reversed the First Circuit and held the funds’ appeal on the merits was untimely because it was filed more than 30 days after the entry of judgment on the merits. Thus, the Supreme Court clarified that an outstanding claim for attorney’s fees does not prevent a judgment from becoming “final” for the purposes of filing a timely appeal.
This decision provides predictability and clarity regarding the appeal deadline when a claim for attorney’s fees remains pending. While the case involved a cause of action under ERISA, the holding extends to all cases involving claims for attorney’s fees after entry of judgment on the merits.
The case is Ray Haluch Gravel Co. v. Cent. Pension Fund of Int'l Union of Operating Engineers & Participating Employers, 134 S. Ct. 773 (2014).