Written Fee Order Was Enough of a Trigger, So Appeal Was Late.
The Ninth Circuit in S.L. v. Upland Unified School Dist., Case No. 12-55715 (9th Cir. Apr. 2, 2014) (published) had to decide an appeals timing issue and, in doing so, provided a graphic “practice tip” for federal court practitioners/litigants desiring to appeal an attorney’s fees order.
This was a case involving a disabled minor appealing both merits and fee rulings in a case under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The district court upheld an administrative ruling partially denying educational cost reimbursements, and also awarded $34,989.77 out of requested $92,078.35 in fees under IDEA’s fee-shifting provision.
Unfortunately for plaintiff, the appeal of the fees order was dismissed.
The reason was relatively simple but does teach a valuable lesson: a district court’s written order on an attorney’s fees disposition triggers the 30 day appeals period under normal circumstances for civil litigants because no separate document, such as that required for a federal court judgment, is necessary in connection with a fee disposition. (F.R.Civ.P., rule 58(a)(3).) The problem was that the appeal of the fee ruling occurred 36 days after the date of the district court’s written fee order—6 days too late.