A question that has long vexed both litigants and courts alike is what constitutes a “final decision” triggering the right to file an appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, which confers jurisdiction on the federal circuit courts of appeals over “appeals from all final decisions of the district courts of the United States.” In a civil case (except where the United States is a party), the notice of appeal from a “final decision” must be filed “within 30 days after entry of the judgment or order appealed from.” Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1)(A). Many an appeal has been lost just by failing to timely file the notice of appeal.
Making a determination as to when an appeal must be filed to comply with the 30-day time limit is supposed to be relatively easy in light of the procedures specified in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 58. Rule 58 requires that every judgment generally “must be set out in a separate document.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 58(a). If a separate document is required by Rule 58(a), then judgment is “entered,” and the time to appeal starts running, when the judgment is entered in the civil docket and the earlier of one of these two events occurs: (1) the judgment is, in fact, set out in a separate document, or (2) 150 days have run from the entry of the judgment in the civil docket. Fed. R. Civ. P. 58(c)(2). The second alternative deals with those situations in which the district court, despite the requirements of Rule 58(a), does not set the judgment out in a separate document.Read More