479 U.S. 966 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

AMOCO OIL CO. v. JIM HEILIG OIL & GAS, INC , 479 U.S. 966 (1986)

479 U.S. 966

JIM HEILIG OIL & GAS, INC. and Harmer Oil
No. 85-2107

Supreme Court of the United States

November 17, 1986

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice BLACKMUN, with whom Justice O'CONNOR joins, dissenting.

This case concerns an application of the "separate document" requirement for judgments contained in Rule 58 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [Footnote 1] I dissent from the denial of certiorari because I am persuaded that the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit misconstrued our prior cases having to do with the requirement. [ Amoco Oil Co. v. Jim Heilig Oil & Gas, Inc 479 U.S. 966 (1986) ][966-Continued.]

Petitioner Amoco Oil Co. took an appeal from an order issued by the Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. On May 21, 1985, the District Court affirmed the Bankruptcy Court's ruling by a memorandum and order consisting of a single document. Petitioner moved for reconsideration. The motion was denied on June 28 in a similar single- document memorandum and order. [Footnote 2]

On July 25, 1985, Amoco filed a notice of appeal with the Court of Appeals for the Sixty Circuit. That court issued an order directing Amoco to show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed. It suggested that, because the District Court had issued

Page 479 U.S. 966 , 967

its initial memorandum opinion and order on May 21, Amoco's filing would be 35 days late under Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure 4(a) and 26(a). App. to Pet. for Cert. C-1. In response, Amoco contended that, rather than being untimely, its appeal actually was premature, given that the District Court had never entered a judgment separate from the May 21 memorandum and order as Rule 58 requires. The Court of Appeals rejected this contention. It observed that in Bankers Trust Co. v. Mallis, 435 U.S. 381 (1978) (per curiam), this Court had adopted a common-sense, rather than a technical, approach to the requirements of Rule 58 so long as no party was misled. App. to Pet. for Cert. D-1. The Court of Appeals further noted that Amoco's motion for reconsideration of the May 21 memorandum and order demonstrated that Amoco considered that opinion to be the final decision. Accordingly, the court concluded, "The mere technicality that the district court failed to file a separate judgment should not be used to give jurisdiction to this Court of an untimely filed appeal in which the parties were not misled by the lack of a separate judgment." App. to Pet. for Cert. D-1 to D-2.

Rule 58 provides in pertinent part: "Every judgment shall be set forth on a separate document." See n. 1, supra. The genesis and purpose of this "separate document" requirement, which was added to Rule 58 by amendment in 1963, are explained in the Advisory Committee Notes. Prior to the amendment difficulties had arisen in situations where a court had " written an opinion or memorandum containing some apparently directive or dispositive words, e.g., 'the plaintiff's motion [for summary judgment] is granted.' " 28 U.S.C.App., p. 627. At times court clerks had viewed these documents as a sufficient basis for entering a judgment. Problems occasionally arose, however, when the documents did not provide all the necessary elements of the judgment or when the court later would issue a formal judgment. Parties were thus uncertain as to when the judgment was effective and as to when the time began to run for purposes of filing post- judgment motions and appeals. The Advisory Committee observed: "The amended rule eliminates these uncertainties by requiring that there be a judgment set out on a separate document-distinct from any opinion or memorandum-which provides the basis for the entry of judgment." Id., at 628.

This Court already has been concerned with the interpretation of Rule 58. In United States v. Indrelunas, 411 U.S. 216d 202 (1973) [479 U.S. 966 , 968]

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