A Tour Through the Federal Rules, and Dismissal of an Appeal as Untimely

State Nat’l Ins. Co. v. County of Camden, 824 F.3d 399 (3d Cir. 2016).  The case underlying today’s 2-1 decision involved claims of legal malpractice.  The procedural history was a tortuous one.  Ultimately, applying a “strict” view of a number of rules of procedure, the majority (Judge Fisher authored the opinion, in which Judge Chagares joined) held that plaintiff insurance company’s appeal was untimely, coming as it did 62 days after plaintiff and the defendant County had filed a stipulation of dismissal of all remaining claims.  A belated and improper motion under Rule 60(b)(6) did not restart the clock on the appeal.

A timely notice of appeal is, of course, jurisdictional.  The panel exercised plenary review, the standard for determining whether it had jurisdiction. Since the appeal was untimely, the appeal was dismissed, and the court did not reach the merits.  Judge Jordan dissented.

The competing opinions discussed at least the following Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:  Rules 12(b)(6), 41(a) (1), 54(b), 59(e), 60(b)(6), and Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure 3(c)(1), 4(a)(1), and (4)(a)(4).  The interplay of all those rules is fascinating, and the fact that three Third Circuit judges could not agree as to how those rules fit together itself makes a statement.  Judge Jordan went so far as to say that “[t]he Majority has the rules wrong.”  The majority did not agree.

The putative appeal involved millions of dollars.  It is safe to assume, therefore, that the insurer will take the next step of seeking panel rehearing or en banc review, especially given the 2-1 split in the panel.  Stay tuned.

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