Appellate Lapses Ding Body Shops’ Antitrust Appeal

In another appeal from the body shops vs. insurers antitrust MDL, Automotive Alignment & Body Service, Inc. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 2020 WL 1074420 (Mar. 6, 2020), the Eleventh Circuit first delved into two procedural questions arising from lapses by appealing plaintiffs, one concerning appealability; the other, reviewability.  The appellants were three groups of plaintiffs whose actions were dismissed by the district court.  Two of the groups failed to amend their complaints by the deadline set in the dismissal order.  That failure caused the judgments to become final.  The two plaintiff groups each filed amended complaints after the deadline, instead of filing notices of appeal.  The insurers moved to strike the tardy amendments. The district court generously treated their oppositions to the insurers’ motions to strike as motions for extensions of time under Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(b)(1)(B) and allowed the amended complaints to proceed, but not for long:  it eventually dismissed them on the merits.

The two tardy plaintiff groups sought to appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, where they found the going even rougher.  In an opinion by Judge Bill Pryor, the court dismissed their appeals for lack of appellate jurisdiction.  Fed. R. Civ. P. 6 was not available, the court held, to extend the deadline to amend after the judgment became final.  Post-judgment relief might have been available under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) or 60, but the plaintiffs affirmatively disclaimed such relief on appeal, and so the court did not address whether their oppositions to the motion to strike in the district court might have been construed as motions under those rules.

That left the third group of plaintiffs, which had better luck, earning a shot at review on the merits.  Their amended complaint was timely but, like the other two, was dismissed on the merits.  The procedural problem was with their notice of appeal from that dismissal, which designated only the order denying their motion for reconsideration of the dismissal of their antitrust claims and a final order dismissing the remaining state law claims, without mention of the dismissal of the original complaint.  This was a potentially appeal-limiting violation of Rule 3(c)(1)(B) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, which requires designation in the notice of appeal of the judgment, order or part thereof being appealed.  The Eleventh Circuit noted that proper designation would once have been considered jurisdictional under Smith v. Barry, 502 U.S. 244, 248 (1992), but that more recent precedents called into question whether the content requirements for notices of appeal would still be regarded as jurisdictional.  E.g., Bowles v. Russell, 551 U.S. 205, 206–07 (2007).

The court then turned to whether there was a failure to abide by Fed. R. App. P. 3, jurisdictional or not.  The court noted a split in its own authority, a dreaded intracircuit conflict.  Some early cases, principally Barfield v. Brierton, 883 F.2d 923 (11th Cir. 1989), hold that a notice of appeal that designates a final judgment allows review all prior non-final orders and rulings which produced the judgment.  But a later line of precedents denies jurisdiction over undesignated interlocutory orders if the appellant’s intent to appeal those orders is unclear (a gauzy standard with seemingly little to commend it).

The court resorted to its rule that when faced with an intracircuit conflict, it must follow the earlier precedent; here, Barfield.  The court consequently held that when a notice of appeal designates a final appealable order—and does not identify the specific parts of that order for appeal—the court has jurisdiction to review that order and any earlier orders that produced the judgment.  (This appellant-friendly rule should deter turning a notice of appeal into another needlessly elaborate drafting exercise.)  So the order dismissing the third group’s state law claims was a final order and carried along the earlier interlocutory order dismissing the antitrust claims.

Addressing the merits, the court held that its earlier en banc decision dismissing antitrust claims by other body shops, Quality Auto Painting Center of Roselle, Inc. v. State Farm Indemnity Co., 917 F.3d 1249 (11th Cir. 2019), was indistinguishable from this case, and thus affirmed the dismissal.  The court, however, reinstated claims by the third group of plaintiffs for tortious interference against one insurer based on two alleged instances of steering customers away from them.  The court affirmed the dismissal of the remaining state law claims.

Posted by Tom Byrne.

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