Parties looking to appeal from district court rulings must strictly comply with the time frames set forth in the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. The Third Circuit recently affirmed that a timely appeal, in strict accord with the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, is the sole method for obtaining circuit court review of a disputed district court ruling and that an appeal of an order denying an untimely motion to reconsider does not give a circuit court jurisdiction to review the underlying district court ruling.

In Virgin Records America, Inc. v. Sparano, No. 06-4603, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 19871 (Aug. 21, 2007), the plaintiff Virgin Records filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey asserting copyright infringement claims against defendants Kim Sparano and her son Benjamin Sparano (collectively, “Sparano”). In May 2006, the district court entered a final judgment and order following the parties’ settlement of the case by stipulation. In June 2006, Virgin Records accused Sparano of violating the stipulation. Thereafter, Sparano filed a motion to declare the stipulation and May 2006 order null and void. That motion was denied on July 19, 2006, and, on August 8, 2006, Sparano filed a “motion to reconsider.” Because the motion to reconsider did not specify any legal grounds, the district court determined that it was “best framed and evaluated under the rubric of Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b),” which provides for relief from judgment based on mistake, excusable neglect, newly discovered evidence and other grounds. On October 6, 2006, the district court denied the motion to reconsider on the grounds that it merely reiterated the arguments made by Sparano in their motion to declare the stipulation null and void and did not present any new evidence or cite any change in controlling law.

On October 26, 2006, Sparano appealed from the October 6 order to the Third Circuit. The court held that it did not have jurisdiction to review the July 19 order seeking to declare the stipulation null and void because Sparano did not file a notice of appeal within thirty days from the date of entry of that order, as required by Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1)(A). The court also held that the filing of the August 8 motion to reconsider did not toll the time for filing an appeal of the July 19 order because the motion was filed more than ten days after entry of the order. (Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(4)(A)(vi) provides for tolling of the time to file an appeal where a motion for relief from judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60 is filed no later than ten days after judgment is entered.) The court held that it did not have jurisdiction to review the merits of the underlying decision, even though it had jurisdiction to review the denial of the motion to reconsider (that appeal having been filed within thirty days of the entry of the October 6 order), and reiterated the maxim that a party cannot use a motion to reconsider as a substitute for appeal. The court ultimately held that, because the motion to reconsider essentially reargued the merits of the original motion to declare the stipulation null and void, relief was not warranted.

Virgin Records is a reminder of the need to review appellate-related deadlines carefully when a case goes to judgment.