Foman v. Davis

Decision Date03 December 1962
Docket NumberNo. 41,41
Citation9 L.Ed.2d 222,371 U.S. 178,83 S.Ct. 227
PartiesLenore FOMAN, Petitioner, v. Elvira A. DAVIS
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Milton Bordwin, Boston, Mass., for petitioner.

Roland E. Shaine, Boston, Mass., for respondent.

Mr. Justice GOLDBERG delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner filed a complaint in the District Court alleging that, in exchange for petitioner's promise to care for and support her mother, petitioner's father had agreed not to make a will, thereby assuring petitioner of an intestate share of the father's estate; it was further alleged that petitioner had fully performed her obligations under the oral agreement, but that contrary thereto the father had devised his property to respondent, his second wife and executrix. Petitioner sought recovery of what would have been her intestate share of the father's estate. Respondent moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the oral agreement was unenforceable under the applicable state statute of frauds. Accepting respondent's contention, the District Court entered judgment on December 19, 1960, dismissing petitioner's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief might be granted. On December 20, 1960, petitioner filed motions to vacate the judgment and to amend the complaint to assert a right of recovery in quantum meruit for performance of the obligations which were the consideration for the assertedly unenforceable oral contract. On January 17, 1961, petitioner filed a notice of appeal from the judgment of December 19, 1960. On January 23, 1961, the District Court denied petitioner's motions to vacate the judgment and to amend the complaint. On January 26, 1961, petitioner filed a notice of appeal from denial of the motions.

On appeal, the parties briefed and argued the merits of dismissal of the complaint and denial of petitioner's motions by the District Court. Notwithstanding, the Court of Appeals of its own accord dismissed the appeal insofar as taken from the District Court judgment of December 19, 1960, and affirmed the orders of the District Court entered January 23, 1961. 1 Cir., 292 F.2d 85. This Court granted certiorari. 368 U.S. 951, 82 S.Ct. 396, 7 L.Ed.2d 385.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that in the absence of a specific designation of the provision of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A. under which the December 20, 1960, motion to vacate was filed, the motion would be treated as filed pursuan to Rule 59(e), rather than under Rule 60(b);1 since, under Rule 73 (a),2 a motion under Rule 59 suspends the running of time within which an appeal may be perfected, the first notice of appeal was treated as premature in view of the then pending motion to vacate and of no effect. The Court of Appeals held the second notice of appeal, filed January 26, 1961, ineffective to review the December 19, 1960, judgment dismissing the complaint because the notice failed to specify that the appeal was being taken from that judgment as well from the orders denying the motions. Considering the second notice of appeal, therefore, only as an appeal from the denial by the District Court of the motions to vacate and amend, the Court of Appeals held that there was nothing in the record to show the circumstances which were before the District Court for consideration in ruling on those motions; consequently it regarded itself as precluded from finding any abuse of discretion in the refusal of the court below to allow amendment.

The Court of Appeals' treatment of the motion to vacate as one under Rule 59(e) was permissible, at least as an original matter, and we will accept that characterization here. Even if this made the first notice of appeal premature, we must nonetheless reverse for we believe the Court of Appeals to have been in error in so narrowly reading the second notice.

The defect in the second notice of appeal did not mislead or prejudice the respondent. With both notices of appeal before it (even granting the asserted ineffectiveness of the first), the Court of Appeals should have treated the appeal from the denial of the motions as an effective, although inept, attempt to appeal from the judgment sought to be vacated. Taking the two notices and the appeal papers together, petitioner's intention to seek review of both the dismissal and the denial of the motions was manifest. Not only did both parties brief and argue the merits of the earlier judgment on appeal, but petitioner's statement of points on which she intended to rely on appeal, submitted to both respondent and the court pursuant to rule, similarly demonstrated the intent to challenge the dismissal.

It is too late in the day and entirely contrary to the spirit of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for decisions on the merits to be avoided on the basis of such mere technicalities. 'The ...

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