Firstier Mortgage Company v. Investors Mortgage Insurance Company
Jack S. Dawson, Oklahoma City, Okl., for petitioner.
John P. Roberts, Oklahoma City, Okl., for respondent.
Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(2) provides that a "notice of appeal filed after the announcement of a decision or order but before the entry of the judgment or order shall be treated as filed after such entry and on the day thereof." On January 26, 1989, the District Court announced from the bench that it intended to grant a motion for summary judgment filed by respondent Investors Mortgage Insurance Co. (IMI) in a suit brought by petitioner FirsTier Mortgage Co. against IMI, requested that the parties file proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law to support that ruling, and clarified that its ruling extinguished all of FirsTier's claims. FirsTier filed a notice of appeal on February 8, identifying the January 26 ruling as the decision from which it was appealing, but the District Court did not enter judgment until March 3. The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal on the ground that the January 26 decision was not a final decision appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.
Held: Rule 4(a)(2) permits a notice of appeal filed from a nonfinal decision to serve as an effective notice of appeal from a subsequently entered final judgment when a district court announces a decision that would be appealable if immediately followed by the entry of judgment. In such an instance, it would be reasonable for a litigant to believe that the decision is final, and permitting a notice of appeal to become effective when judgment is entered would not catch the appellee by surprise. This interpretation of the Rule best comports with its drafters' intent. And it does not contravene Rule 1(b)'s prohibition on construing the appellate rules to extend or limit courts' jurisdiction as established by law. Even if a bench ruling were not final under § 1291, Rule 4(a)(2) would not render that ruling appealable in contravention of § 1291. Rather, it treats the premature notice as a notice filed from the subsequently entered judgment. The instant bench ruling is a "decision" under the Rule. It purported to dispose of all of FirsTier's claims and would have been final under § 1291 had the judge set forth his judgment immediately and the clerk entered the judgment on the docket. FirsTier's confusion as to the litigation's status was understandable, and no unfairness to IMI results from allowing the appeal to go forward. Pp. 272-277.
Reversed and remanded.
MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. KENNEDY, J., filed a concurring opinion.
Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.