Supreme Court to Determine the Appealability of Merits Decisions When Contractual Fee Disputes Remain Unresolved

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The U.S. Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in a case that could have far reaching impact in litigation involving federal claims for attorney’s fees. In Ray Haluch Gravel Co. v. Central Pension Fund of the International Union of Operating Engineers & Participating Employers, the Court will address “whether a district court’s decision on the merits that leaves unresolved a request for contractual attorney’s fees is a ‘final decision’ under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.” This issue is extremely important to trial attorneys, as it impacts the timing of appeals and whether objections to district court rulings on the merits of a contract dispute are properly preserved.

Many contracts provide for an award of attorney’s fees if disputes arise under the contract, but trial courts often do not resolve the fee issues at the same time as the substantive contractual dispute. The federal circuit courts are split on whether a case is final for appeal purposes if the merits of a contract dispute are adjudicated, but the attorney’s fee issue remains outstanding. This split in authority can cause substantial confusion and lead to the filing of either premature appeals that waste litigants’ time and money or, worse, untimely appeals that lead to the forfeiture of all substantive appellate issues.

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