10.19.2005

Fourth Circuit Reasserts Unwillingness to Review Denial of Summary Judgment after Full Trial and Judgment on the Merits

The Fourth Circuit in Varghese v. Honeywell Intern., Inc. 424 F.3d 411 (4th Cir. Sep. 14, 2005) has reaffirmed its position that it will not review a district court's pretrial denial of summary judgment after a full trial and final judgment on the merits. This position is at odds with the view of courts in other circuits. Here's an excerpt:

Here, Honeywell seeks appellate review of a district court's denial of summary judgment after a full trial and final judgment. However, under binding circuit precedent, this is exactly the type of situation in which appellate review is not available. Recognizing this problem, Honeywell attempts to extricate itself from underneath the Chesapeake [Paper Products Co. v. Stone & Webster Engineering Corp., 51 F.3d 1229 (4th Cir.1995)] umbrella. Specifically, Honeywell argues that the ERISA preemption issue was not raised in its JMOL motion because such motions challenge the sufficiency of the evidence presented by an opposing party at trial. As such, Honeywell contends a JMOL motion was not the appropriate avenue for its legal challenge and that appellate review of the pretrial denial of summary judgment is therefore proper.

However, these arguments were addressed in Chesapeake. Again, we expressly rejected "the contention that our review should depend on whether the party claims an error of law or an error of fact." Chesapeake, 51 F.3d at 1235. In fact, we stated that although a dichotomy between reviewing denials of summary judgment based on an erroneous legal conclusion and those based on an erroneous *423 factual determination "is supported by the reasoning in Holley [Holley v. Northrop Worldwide Aircraft Serv., 835 F.2d 1375, 1378 (11th Cir.1988) ] ... we decline to follow Holley and therefore need not describe specific circumstances in which this Court would review the denial of summary judgment after trial." Id. at 1235 n. 8. In other words, the Chesapeake Court did not need to discuss "specific circumstances" because there are none. The express rejection of Holley, a case that supported such a dichotomy, makes that point clear. At no point does the opinion suggest otherwise.

We recognize that several other circuits have taken a different approach on this issue, allowing appeals from a denial of summary judgment after a trial where the summary judgment motion raised a legal issue and did not question the sufficiency of the evidence. See, e.g., Pavon v. Swift Transp. Co., 192 F.3d 902 (9th Cir.1999); Rekhi v. Wildwood Industries, Inc., 61 F.3d 1313 (7th Cir.1995). However, as the Seventh Circuit noted in Chemetall GMBH v. ZR Energy, Inc., 320 F.3d 714, 721 (7th Cir.2003), their approach simply conflicts with our own. There, the Seventh Circuit expressly noted the disagreement stating: "[t]he Fourth Circuit, however, has rejected any distinctions between factual and legal issues like the one we drew in Rekhi, holding that in either case, review of the district court's denial of summary judgment is barred after trial." Id.

In Chesapeake, we concluded that we would not review a district court's pretrial denial of summary judgment after a full trial and final judgment on the merits. [citations omitted] After the denial of Honeywell's summary judgment motion, there was a full trial and final judgment on the merits. Honeywell had the option to move for judgment as a matter of law (the denial of which we will review), arguing that ERISA preempted Dr. Varghese's state law separation pay claims. As we noted in Chesapeake, "a party may appropriately move for judgment as a matter of law on discrete legal issues." Id. at 1236 (emphasis added). Although Honeywell moved for judgment as a matter of law, they did not so move on this issue and therefore failed to preserve it for appeal. Therefore, binding circuit precedent mandates that the appeal be dismissed.

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