One of the many procedural niceties of civil litigation that escapes the attention of most people almost always, and even many lawyers often, is the timing for enforcing judgments. When do I see the $$$?
If I win at the trial court on a claim that comes with attorneys’ fees, can I be awarded attorneys’ fees while the other side is taking an appeal? If I win an award of sanctions against the other side, can I collect that before there is a “final judgment on the merits” of the lawsuit (that is, before the other side can even have a right to appeal)? Two recent decisions from two judges of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota answer the questions: “no” and “yes.”
Dedicated Minnesota Litigator readers may remember Camelot v AMC Showcase Block E Theaters, in which U.S. District Court Judge Ann D. Montgomery (D. Minn.) awarded summary judgment to Plaintiff Camelot in a lease dispute. Camelot won but, Judge Montgomery recently held, Plaintiff Camelot may not seek and be awarded its attorneys’ fees until defendant has sought his appeal.
Regular Minnesota Litigator readers will be familiar with the Cenveo v. Southern Graphics employee-raiding litigation, a hard-fought lawsuit for some time. In that case, Judge Tunheim lowered the boom on the sanctioned defendant. Plaintiff sought the $100,000 sanction right away. Judge Tunheim agreed, holding in effect, “pay up now, appeal later.”
Neither judge articulated the legal standard or provided much analysis in their court orders. Presumably such decisions are committed to the “sound discretion” of the trial court.
This, then, would be one of the many areas of trial lawyers’ practices where lawyers (and more to the point, their clients) might hope in vain for bright-line answers easily known in advance.