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Gregson & Associates Architects v. Government of Virgin Islands

decided: April 15, 1982.

GREGSON & ASSOCIATES ARCHITECTS APPELLANT
v.
GOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS APPELLEE



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS DIVISION OF ST. CROIX

Before Hunter, Van Dusen and Sloviter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Per Curiam

Opinion OF THE COURT

Oral argument in the instant case was heard by this panel on December 8, 1981. On January 5, 1982, we filed an opinion in which we dismissed the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. We subsequently granted rehearing before the panel, and we now file this superseding opinion, in which we conclude that appellate jurisdiction exists. By order of this court dated February 21, 1982, the panel's opinion filed and judgment entered on January 5, 1982 has been vacated. For the reasons stated below, we will affirm the judgment of the district court.

FACTS

Appellant Gregson & Associates Architects brought suit in the federal district court for the District of the Virgin Islands seeking relief on contract and quantum meruit theories for architectural services it claimed to have provided to the Government of the Virgin Islands. The district court found that no valid contract existed, and that quantum meruit recovery was unavailable because no benefit was shown to have accrued to the government. Gregson now appeals the judgment entered in favor of the defendant Government of the Virgin Islands.

JURISDICTION

The threshold issue is that of timeliness of this appeal. Fed. R. App. P. 4(a) (1) provides in part:

In a civil case in which an appeal is permitted by law as of right from a district court to a court of appeals the notice of appeal ... shall be filed with the clerk of the district court within 30 days after the date of entry of the judgment or order appealed from ....

Judgment was entered by the district court in this case on February 26, 1981. The notice of appeal was not filed until April 6, 1981, more than thirty days after this judgment. Appellant contends, however, that the district court's order of February 26, 1981 did not constitute a "judgment" within the meaning of Rule 4 since the court's order did not meet the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 58. Rule 58 provides in part that "(e)very judgment shall be set forth on a separate document."

In the instant case, the judgment of the district court was set forth within a four-page document including a memorandum opinion by the court. The district court's order of February 26 carried the heading "MEMORANDUM OPINION AND JUDGMENT." On the last of the four pages of the document there appeared a separate heading, "JUDGMENT," under which the judgment of the court was stated.*fn1 The document was entered on the court's docket.*fn2 Furthermore, appellant admitted at oral argument that it had understood the February 26 order as containing the judgment of the district court. Indeed, the very notice of appeal at issue here, filed by appellant, provides:

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that GREGSON & ASSOCIATES ARCHITECTS, Plaintiff/Intervenor-Appellant, hereby appeals to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals from the Judgment entered in this court on the 26th day of February, 1981.

In United States v. Indrelunas, 411 U.S. 216, 93 S. Ct. 1562, 36 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1973), the Supreme Court discussed the purpose of the separate document requirement:

The reason for the "separate document" provision is clear from the notes of the advisory committee of the 1963 amendment. (Citation omitted.) Prior to 1963, there was considerable uncertainty over what actions of the District Court would constitute an entry of ...


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