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Patterson v. District of Columbia

May 6, 2010


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB-5726-87) (Hon. Rufus G. King, III, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Oberly, Associate Judge

Argued January 21, 2010

Before FISHER, THOMPSON, and OBERLY, Associate Judges.

Rule 3 of the rules of this court requires very little information that must be specified in a notice of appeal from a judgment or order of the Superior Court. In fact, it requires only two things: specification of "the party or parties taking the appeal," which is done by "naming each one in the caption or body of the notice," and designation of "the judgment, order, or part thereof being appealed." D.C. App. Rule (3)(c)(1)(A) and (B). Because the notice of appeal in this case did not comply with the first requirement, we dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.


This case has a long and tortured history - see District of Columbia v. Patterson, 667 A.2d 1338 (D.C. 1995) (Patterson I); Patterson v. District of Columbia, 795 A.2d 681 (D.C. 2002) (Patterson II); and Patterson v. District of Columbia, 819 A.2d 320 (D.C. 2003) (per curiam) (Patterson III) - but we need not dwell on the details to resolve the instant appeal. In brief, named appellant Terrie Patterson sued the District of Columbia in 1987, challenging the District's seizure of her vehicle under the forfeiture provisions of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, D.C. Code § 33-552 (1981). Patterson I, 667 A.2d at 1341. The trial court held that she and five other plaintiffs who joined her suit were entitled under the Fourth Amendment to a post-seizure hearing. Id. at 1342. Only Patterson requested such a hearing, however, and the trial court found that the District had probable cause to seize her vehicle. Id. & n.7. Despite Patterson's loss on the merits of the hearing (and the failure of other plaintiffs to even seek such a hearing), the trial court held that Patterson and the other plaintiffs were prevailing parties entitled to attorneys' fees. Id.

The District and the plaintiffs filed cross-appeals, "the District arguing that the plaintiffs were not entitled to any counsel fees because they were not prevailing parties, and the plaintiffs arguing that the trial court erred in not awarding them a reasonable counsel fee." Patterson II, 795 A.2d at 682. We held that Patterson was not a prevailing party on her Fourth Amendment claim because when she "got the hearing she sought, the trial court found that probable cause indeed did exist, and thus she obtained no benefit whatever from her proof of a constitutional violation." Patterson I, 667 A.2d at 1345. Moreover, we concluded that "[a] fortiori, the other plaintiffs, who did not even seek a probable cause hearing," were not prevailing parties either. Id. at n.16. But "notwithstanding the plaintiffs' failure to establish that they were 'prevailing parties' with respect to the Fourth Amendment claim," we remanded "for further consideration of the possibility that plaintiffs could establish such status with respect to certain other of their constitutional claims." Id. at 1346-37.

On remand, the trial court denied plaintiffs' request for attorneys' fees. Without deciding whether plaintiffs were prevailing parties, the court ruled that plaintiffs could not recover because the attorneys' fees "were covered by the broad releases executed by the plaintiffs in settling their individual cases." Patterson II, 795 A.2d at 682. Plaintiffs appealed, and we reversed again. We concluded that the release agreement "was not intended to preclude a subsequent counsel fee award," and remanded the case for further consideration of whether plaintiffs were prevailing parties. Id. at 683-84. The District then petitioned for rehearing, which request we denied in Patterson III, 819 A.2d at 320-21.

On the second remand, the trial court once more denied plaintiffs' claim for attorneys' fees, concluding that plaintiffs were not prevailing parties. The attorney for the plaintiffs timely filed a notice of appeal. Whereas the prior two notices of appeal in this litigation (filed by the same attorney as the one who filed the notice of appeal in this case) listed all of the plaintiffs seeking review, the notice of appeal of the latest order listed in the caption and the body of the notice only Patterson as the person appealing. It is undisputed that Patterson's claim is not before us because Patterson settled her claims long ago.


A notice of appeal "must specify the party or parties taking the appeal by naming each one in the caption or body of the notice." D.C. App. R. 3 (c)(1)(A). This cardinal rule of appellate procedure is jurisdictional. Torres v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 487 U.S. 312, 318 (1988). (In this case, as in others, e.g., Thoubboron v. Ford Motor Co., 749 A.2d 745, 748 (D.C. 2000); Walker v. District of Columbia, 656 A.2d 722, 725 (D.C. 1995), Torres' interpretation of the nearly identical, parallel federal rules provides persuasive authority for our analysis.) For instance, in Torres, the notice of appeal omitted the name of Torres - one of sixteen plaintiffs who sought to intervene in an employment discrimination suit. Id. at 313. Although the notice of appeal contained the words "et al.," the Ninth Circuit ruled that it lacked jurisdiction over Torres' purported appeal. Id. at 317. The Supreme Court affirmed. The Court acknowledged that "rules of procedure should be liberally construed," but explained that the "failure to name a party in a notice of appeal is more than excusable 'informality'; it constitutes a failure of that party to appeal." Id. at 314, 316.

In 1993, the federal rules were amended to do "away with Torres' harsh result." 16A WRIGHT ET AL., FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 3494.4, at 87 (4th ed. 2008).

Thus, our rule - which tracks the revised federal rule - now says that an "attorney representing more than one party may describe those parties with such terms as 'all plaintiffs,' 'the defendants,' 'the plaintiffs A, B, et al.,' or 'all defendants except X.'" D.C. App. R. 3 (c)(1)(A). Moreover, Rule 3 (c)(4) states that "[a]n appeal may not be dismissed for informality of form or title of the notice of appeal, or for failure to name a party whose intent to appeal is otherwise clear from the notice."

The 1993 amendment, however, has "not eliminate[d] the requirement that a party who intends to appeal be identified in some way" in the notice of appeal. 16A FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 3494.4, at 90. As the Second Circuit has put it, the amendment "offers no relief in situations where . . . the party is 'never named or otherwise designated, however inartfully.'" Billino v. Citibank, N.A., 123 F.3d 723, 726 (1997) (quoting Torres, 487 U.S. at 317); see also Maerki v. Wilson, 128 F.3d 1005, 1007-08 (6th Cir. 1997) (although "what constitutes compliance with the rule has clearly been 'liberalized,'" compliance with the "nontaxing" requirements of Rule 3 (c) continues to be required). Thus, after the amendment, we have continued to rely on Torres and have insisted that a party that intends to appeal an order must be named or somehow designated in the notice of appeal. In Walker, for example, we refused to consider the appeal of an attorney who sought review of an order awarding sanctions against herself and her client because the attorney failed to list herself as an appellant in her client's notice of appeal and did not file a separate notice of appeal in her own name. 656 A.2d at 724-25; see also Thoubboron, 749 A.2d at 748-49 (similar). Numerous federal courts likewise have concluded that, notwithstanding the 1993 amendment, a notice of appeal's failure to name a party precludes appellate review of that party's claims. See, e.g., Paramedics Electromedicina Comercial, Ltda. v. GE Med. Sys. Info. Techs., Inc., 369 F.3d 645, 656-57 (2d Cir. 2004) (dismissing a company president's challenge to a contempt order awarding sanctions against the company and the president where the body of the notice of appeal referred to the president, but the notice itself failed to name the president as an appellant); Meehan v. United Consumers Club Franchising Corp., 312 ...

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