Here is a valuable lesson for anyone handling appeals in the federal system: A judgment on the merits is a final, appealable judgment under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 even if the award or amount of attorney’s fees is yet to be determined. This rule applies regardless of whether the right to attorney’s fees is based on a statute, a contract, or both. So a notice of appeal filed more than 30 days after the merits judgment but less than 30 days after the award of attorney’s fees is untimely as to the merits decision.
That is the lesson of Ray Haluch Gravel Co. v. Central Pension Fund, handed down today by the U.S. Supreme Court. Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Kennedy explained, “Whether the 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.” Slip op. at 1.