Attorneys like to be paid, so it’s understandable that a lawyer would zealously pursue a motion for attorney’s fees. A zealous appellate argument, however, can be premature when there are competing motions for attorney’s fees in a district court.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently noted that it lacked jurisdiction to rule on a fee appeal because a district court hasn’t issued a final ruling on a motion for attorney’s fees.
Richard Mayer sued his former employer, Wall Street Equity, Inc., and boss, Steven West, for overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The parties settled.
Mayer's attorney filed the settlement with the district court and filed a motion for attorney's fees. After the court dismissed the case under the settlement, the defendants filed an opposition to Mayer's motion for attorney's fees and requested their own attorneys' fees, claiming that Mayer's attorney pursued the litigation in bad faith.
The district court denied the defendants' motion, but failed to offer a reason. The defendants appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, but Mayer's motion for attorney's fees was still pending before the district court.
By the time the Eleventh Circuit ruled on the defendants' appeal, a magistrate judge had granted Mayer's fee motion, but that wasn't enough to give the appellate court jurisdiction.
Appellate courts only have jurisdiction over final decisions. A postjudgment matter, like a motion for attorney's fees, is treated as free-standing litigation, so an order is only considered final if it "disposes of all the issues raised in the motion that initially sparked the postjudgment proceedings."
Here, Mayer's motion for attorney's fees sparked the postjudgment litigation, so there was no final order in the matter at the time the defendants filed their appeal.
Don't waste your time and resources pursuing an appeal for fees before the postjudgment litigation is final. Before you appeal on cross-motions for fees, you must wait for the district court to rule on all of the issues in the original motion.
- Mayer v. Wall Street Equity Group (Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Plaintiff Must Win Judgment to Win Attorney's Fees (FindLaw's Eleventh Circuit Blog)
- Parties Need not be "Prevailing" for ERISA Attorney's Fees Award (FindLaw's Supreme Court Blog)