January 15, 2014 United States Supreme Court opinion

Ray Haluch Gravel Co. v Central Pension Fund of international Union of Operating Engineers and Participating Employers

Fund sued Haluch under ERISA alleging inadequate contributions to the pension funds mentioned in a collective bargaining agreement. It obtain a judgment in its favor and obtained an attorney fee award over a month after the contributions decision. Fund field a notice of appeal after the fee award. The 1st Circuit held that because the fee award was based on the agreement and not statute, it was part of the merits decision and the appeal was timely. Resolving a circuit split, the Court unanimously reversed. It held that under 28 USC 1291, attorney fee awards are always collateral to the merits of the claim even when the fee is based on contract. It noted that the reasoning in Court precedent holding that statutory fee awards do not extend the time to appeal applied here as the need for predictability and ease of operation support a bright line rule that merits decisions are final even when attorney fee petitions are pending before the trial court. It also noted the Rules of Civil procedure contain a mechanism to extend the time for appeal in the attorney fee petition scenario and that Fund failed to use it. The Court finally held that attorney fees incurred prior to suit do not change the analysis as those were incurred in connection with the suit. Indeed, preliminary investigation, drafting pleadings and the like are always part of the litigation process and do not overcome the need for a simple operative rule. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the determination there was no timely appeal of the contributions order.

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