Supreme Court Abrogates Fourth Circuit Rule on Time to Appeal Contractual Attorney’s Fee Award
Until this morning, the following rule prevailed in the Fourth Circuit:
[A] claim for legal costs based on a contractual provision that is not limited to expenses incurred during the underlying litigation is an element of damages to be proved at trial under the substantive law governing the action, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(2), 58(c), and that a judgment that leaves open such a claim is not final and appealable.
No more. This morning, the Supreme Court cited Carolina Power as standing on one side of a circuit split, and the Court unanimously went the other way: “Whether [a] claim for attorney’s fees is based on a statute, a contract, or both, the pendency of a ruling on an award for fees and costs does not prevent, as a general rule, the merits judgment from becoming final for purposes of appeal.” Ray Haluch Gravel Co. v. Central Pension Fund, __ U.S. __ (Jan. 15, 2014).
Anyone litigating contract actions in the Fourth Circuit should take note. Decisions from the Third, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits also were cited on the losing side of the circuit split.