The Eleventh Circuit recently dismissed an appeal from an order compelling arbitration because the appealing party failed to file a notice of appeal within thirty days of that order. For lenders, this opinion serves as a sharp reminder that a trial court order can be final and appealable even though a final judgment has not yet been entered. Instead, an order can be final and appealable if it effectively resolves the case on the merits. Thus, lenders should always examine whether an adverse order should be appealed immediately. If there is any doubt about the proper time to appeal, the lender should consider filing a notice of appeal so that it does not lose the right to appeal that decision.
In the case United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union AFL-CIO-CLC, USW Local 200 v. Wise Alloys, LLC, 807 F.3d 1258 (11th Cir. Dec. 8, 2015), a union and Wise Alloys LLC (“the Company”) entered a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) which, among other things, created a schedule of gradually increasing health care premiums over a five-year period. To offset these increases, the CBA included cost-of-living adjustments designed to offset the increasing premiums. The CBA also included an arbitration provision.
One year after the parties signed the CBA, a dispute arose between the union and the Company regarding the manner in which the cost-of-living adjustments and premium increases would work. The parties failed to resolve their differences and, in 2010, the union invoked the CBA’s arbitration provision. When the Company refused to arbitrate, the union sought an order compelling arbitration . Importantly, the only relief requested in the union’s Complaint was an order compelling arbitration. Following cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court granted the union’s motion and compelled arbitration. However, in its order, the trial court expressed an opinion, sua sponte, that “the case should be stayed, rather than dismissed, pending a final resolution following arbitration.” The court determined that Section 3 of the Federal Arbitration Act, as well as Circuit precedent, required a stay. Consequently, the clerk administratively closed the case.
The case proceeded to arbitration where the union prevailed. The district court case was reopened and the court granted the union’s motion to enforce the arbitration award and entered a final judgment.
The Company appealed the decision to compel arbitration to the Eleventh Circuit, which dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The Court concluded that the order compelling arbitration had effectively ended the case on the merits because it resolved the only claim for relief and left nothing for the trial court to do but enforce its decision. Thus, the order compelling arbitration became final and appealable on the date it was entered rather than the date of the judgment. Because the Company had not filed a notice of appeal within 30 days of the order compelling arbitration, the Court had no jurisdiction to consider that appeal. The Eleventh Circuit rejected the argument that the district court’s “stay” had extended the time to appeal. It noted that the only claim in the Complaint was for an order compelling arbitration. Because there were no substantive claims contained in the Complaint, there was nothing for the district court to stay. Thus, the purported stay was without force or effect.
United Steel is a reminder that a trial court order can be final and appealable even if a final judgment has not yet been entered. For that reason, lenders should review adverse and largely dispositive rulings from a trial court to determine whether the decision should be immediately appealed. If there is any doubt as to the appropriate time to appeal, the lender should consider filing a notice of appeal. Even if the appeal is ultimately dismissed as premature, that result may be preferable to losing the right to appeal entirely.