Review of District Court Orders and Decisions in the Court of Appeals

Appeals in admiralty cases can be brought before the appropriate United States Court of Appeals for the region.

A notice of appeal initiates admiralty appellate proceedings.  The time fixed to appeal a decision in an admiralty action is within thirty days from delivery of a final judgment or order.[i] In cases where the U.S. government is a party to the 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.  If an admiralty matter in issue is a prize case (i.e, an admiralty case brought to condemn an enemy ship or cargo), the time fixed for notice of appeal can differ according to the special provisions made for such cases.  The time to file a notice of appeal in an admiralty case starts from the date of entry of judgment.  Courts may extend the time to file a notice of appeal if the appellant provides a reasonable excuse or an excusable neglect.  However, a motion to extend the time should be filed before expiry of the prescribed 30 days to file notice of appeal.

When a party to an admiralty case files an appeal from an interlocutory order, a district court can stay the proceedings in the case while the appeal is pending.  A district court or court of appeals can grant stay in an admiralty case when the interlocutory order appealed against deals with a substantial question of law in the case.[iii] This is because resolution of the substantial issue can result in conclusion of the case itself.[iv]

In an admiralty case, when an appeal is filed in a court of appeals 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 appellant’s bond to stay execution proceedings on a judgment pending an appeal).

The rules applicable in federal civil cases apply to admiralty cases as well.  Federal civil rules apply to factual findings in admiralty cases.  However, findings of law in admiralty cases are reviewed from the beginning of the case (i.e., de novo).  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.[v] A court of appeals cannot find the findings of the district court erroneous unless there is abuse of discretionary power and violation of legal principles.[vi]

The general rule is that only final judgments can be appealed against.  However, sometimes appeals from interlocutory orders in federal courts are permitted.  This is by virtue of a doctrine called the collateral order doctrine and it applies to admiralty cases also.[vii] Even if parties to an admiralty suit accept an interlocutory order which does not decide all claims in a suit as the final decision of the court, a court of appeal will not lose its jurisdiction.  A court of appeal will have jurisdiction over a ship which was under the jurisdiction of a district court at the time of commencement of a case.  Subsequent change in circumstances does not result in the loss of jurisdiction of the court of appeals.

According to federal rules, when an order acts as a final decision to one party in a claim, it can be certified as a final order for that party alone for the purpose of appeal.  In such cases, other parties in the case can have unsettled claims.  This 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 an appeal is filed in that status, certification as to the fact is necessary in courts of appeal for admitting the appeal.[viii]

Appeals from interlocutory decrees that determine rights and liabilities of parties in admiralty cases are allowed immediately following the interlocutory order.  However, in such cases the claim in the appeal should be an admiralty claim.[ix] An appeal from an interlocutory order can lie in a court of appeals 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 favor of one party can also be appealled .[xi] However, no appeal can be made 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 can not be made.

A party can not appeal an interlocutory order in an admiralty case staying a case pending arbitration.  However, an order denying stay in an admiralty case pending arbitration can be appealed.[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.

When an interlocutory order deals with a substantial question of law and cannot otherwise be appealed from, a 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 can otherwise be appealed from.

[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] Nike, Inc. v. Comercial Iberica De Exclusivas Deportivas, S.A., 20 F.3d 987 (9th Cir. Or. 1994)

[iv] Halliburton Energy Servs. v. NL Indus., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5743 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 26, 2007)

[v] Lloyd v. Gill, 406 F.2d 585 (5th Cir. Fla. 1969)

[vi] Daniels Towing Service, Inc. v. Nat Harrison Associates, Inc., 432 F.2d 103 (5th Cir. Fla. 1970)

[vii] Pride Shipping Corp. v. Tafu Lumber Co., 898 F.2d 1404 (9th Cir. Wash. 1990)

[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)


Inside Review of District Court Orders and Decisions in the Court of Appeals