Appeals and review in admiralty cases can be brought before Courts of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
Appellate proceedings in admiralty law are initiated by providing notice of appeal. The time fixed to appeal a decision in an admiralty action is the same as in federal civil cases, i.e., within thirty days from delivery of judgment or order.[i] However, when the U.S. government is a party to an appeal, the time fixed for filing an appeal is 60 days from the date of delivery of the judgment or order appealed from.[ii] If the aggrieved party does not appeal within the said period, the judgment or order will be confirmed. The time to file a notice of appeal in an admiralty case starts from the date of entry of judgment. Courts can extend the time to file a notice of appeal if an appellant provides a reasonable excuse or an excusable neglect.
Generally, only final judgments are appealable. However, in federal courts, appeals from interlocutory orders are also permissible according to a doctrine called the collateral order doctrine. The doctrine applies to admiralty cases also.[iii] In appeals from interlocutory orders, a district court can stay the proceedings in a case while the appeal is pending. When an interlocutory order questions a substantial question of law, a district court or court of appeals can grant stay in an admiralty case.[iv] This is because resolution of the substantial issue can result in conclusion of the case itself.[v] When an appeal is filed in a court of appeal to release funds, a party seeking admiralty attachment need not obtain a stay of the proceedings in the district court, nor post a supersedeas bond (i.e., an appellants bond to stay execution proceedings on a judgment pending an appeal).
The procedural rules applicable in federal civil cases apply to admiralty cases as well. Generally, in federal district courts, admiralty actions in rem are tried without a jury. In such circumstances, the court of appeals can review de novo a district court’s legal findings and factual findings.[vi] A court of appeals cannot find a district court decision erroneous unless there is abuse of discretionary power and violation of legal principles.[vii]
According to federal civil rules, when an interlocutory order acts as a final decision to one party in a claim, it can be certified as a final judgment for that party alone for the purpose of appeal. In such cases, other parties in the case can have unsettled claims. This rule is applicable to admiralty cases also. Generally, an appeal from an interlocutory order needs no certification for filing an appeal. However, if that order has the effect of a final adjudication concerning any party and appeal is filed in that status, certification as to the fact is necessary in courts of appeal for admitting the appeal.[viii]
When an admiralty appeal from interlocutory orders is brought before a court of appeal, at least one claim in the appeal should be an admiralty claim.[ix] An appeal from an interlocutory order can lie to a court of appeal immediately after the order is proclaimed. However, the interlocutory order should conclusively determine a particular claim in an action.[x]
A partial summary judgment in a case in favor of one party is also appealable.[xi] However, no appeal lies to a court of appeals where dismissal of an action does not prevent a party from initiating another case in another forum. Also, where interlocutory decision of a district court is based on procedural law, an appeal does not lie.
If an interlocutory order in an admiralty case is for staying a case pending arbitration, an appeal against the interlocutory will not lie in a court of appeal. However, an order denying stay in an admiralty case pending arbitration is appealable.[xii]
An interlocutory order can be reviewed along with an appeal from a final decree. However, if a court of appeal decides an interlocutory order upon its merits, an appeal from the final decree in the same case can involve only issues not decided in the previous appeal.
If an interlocutory order deals with a substantial question of law and is not otherwise appealable, the district court can certify the order for appeal. A certification permitting appeal in an interlocutory admiralty order where question of law is in dispute is not needed when the order is otherwise appealable.
In admiralty cases, review of court of appeals’s decisions is done by the Supreme Court. The general rule that a review is brought before the Supreme Court by a writ of certiorari is applicable in admiralty cases also. When a state court decides an admiralty case and the substantial question in the case comes under federal law, the matter comes under the ambit of review of the Supreme Court.[xiii]
Generally, the Supreme Court has power to issue writs of prohibition and mandamus in admiralty reviews as well.[xiv] However, the Supreme Court does not issue writs of prohibition and mandamus except when the matter is of public importance or is of exceptional nature. Otherwise the Supreme Court advises a party to approach the court of appeal for remedy. The Supreme Court can issue a writ of prohibition in order to prevent a district court from entertaining an admiralty case when it has no jurisdiction.
[i] Lott v. Goodyear Aerospace Corp., 1976 U.S. App. LEXIS 13256 (6th Cir. 1976)
[ii] Roberts v. I.B.E.W. Local 910 AFL-CIO, 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22271 (N.D.N.Y Feb. 25, 1995)
[iii] Pride Shipping Corp. v. Tafu Lumber Co., 898 F.2d 1404 (9th Cir. Wash. 1990)
[iv] Nike, Inc. v. Comercial Iberica De Exclusivas Deportivas, S.A., 20 F.3d 987 (9th Cir. Or. 1994)
[v] Halliburton Energy Servs. v. NL Indus., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5743 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 26, 2007)
[vi] Lloyd v. Gill, 406 F.2d 585 (5th Cir. Fla. 1969)
[vii] Daniels Towing Service, Inc. v. Nat Harrison Associates, Inc., 432 F.2d 103 (5th Cir. Fla. 1970)
[viii] Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Mackey, 351 U.S. 427 (U.S. 1956)
[ix] Lewis v. United States, 812 F. Supp. 620 (E.D. Va. 1993)
[x] Evergreen Int’l (USA) Corp. v. Standard Warehouse, 33 F.3d 420 (4th Cir. S.C. 1994)
[xi] Wallis ex rel. Wallis v. Princess Cruises, Inc., 306 F.3d 827 (9th Cir. Cal. 2002)
[xii] Gave Shipping Co., S.A. v. Parcel Tankers, Inc., 634 F.2d 1156 (9th Cir. Or. 1980)
[xiii] 28 USCS § 1257
[xiv] 28 USCS § 1651