Supreme Court rules in attorney’s fees case

Supreme Court rules in attorney’s fees case

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday in Ray Haluch Gravel Co. v. Central Pension Fund [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that, whether a claim for attorney’s fees is based upon a statute, a private contract, or both, the pendency of a ruling on an award for fees and costs does not prevent a merits judgment from becoming “final” for purposes of appeal. Before 2007, petitioners Ray Haluch Gravel Company (Haluch) entered into a collective bargaining agreement with respondents Central Pension Fund (CPF), pursuant to which Haluch was required to pay attorney’s fees and costs in the event of a default. Haluch defaulted, and CPF filed suit in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts. During the suit CPF sought an extension with respect to their petition for attorney’s fees and costs, and, before the district court ruled on it, the court ruled in their favor regarding the merits. CPF, dissatisfied with the merits ruling, filed a notice of appeal within 30 days of the eventual ruling on fees and costs, but more than 30 days after the merits ruling. Haluch argued CPF’s appeal was, therefore, untimely pursuant to federal law requiring appeal from the “final” judgment within 30 days. The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit disagreed on grounds that the attorney’s fees provision within the CBA was part of the merits decision. Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Anthony Kennedy reversed the First Circuit’s decision, concluding that CPF’s notice of appeal was untimely and that there is no distinction between a grant of fees by contact and by statute for purposes of determining when a judgment is “final.”

The effect of attorney’s fees and costs provisions within statutes and private agreements is often litigated. In May the Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that an untimely National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 petition may qualify for an award of attorney’s fees if it is filed in good faith and there is a reasonable basis for its claim. In February the Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) allows fees to be awarded in Fair Debt Collection Practices Act even if the suit was brought in good faith. In April 2010 the Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that calculations of an attorney’s fee based on the lodestar may be increased due to superior performance, but only in extraordinary circumstances.