Fifth Circuit Lacks Appellate Jurisdiction Over Appeal of $125,000 Attorneys’ Fee Sanction Because the Notice of Appeal Failed to Name the Lawyer Who Was Taking the Appeal

The biggest USA pop record of 2012, “Thrift Shop” by hip hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, spawned litigation for copyright infringement by New Orleans-based musician Paul Batiste. In Batiste v. Lewis, No. 19-30400 (5th Cir. Sept. 22, 2020), the panel affirms summary judgment in favor of defendants. Adding insult to injury, the panel holds that it lacks jurisdiction to review a fee award against Batiste’s attorney because of a defective notice of appeal.

“After prevailing on summary judgment, the defendants sought to recover some of their attorneys’ fees from Batiste under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 505. They also moved for sanctions against Batiste’s attorney,” named Hayes, both directly under the Copyright Act and as a sanction under 28 U.S.C. § 1927. “The district court granted their motion, awarded them $125,427.81 in fees and costs, and held Batiste and Hayes jointly and severally liable for the award. Batiste separately appealed the summary judgment and fee award.”

One of the issues that Batiste raised on appeal was the district court “hold[ing] his attorney, Hayes, jointly and severally liable for the fee award as a sanction. Batiste argues that the court didn’t make the findings required for imposing sanctions against Hayes under 28 U.S.C. § 1927.” While allowing that this “may be true,” the panel nevertheless holds that “we lack jurisdiction to review this issue because Hayes didn’t appeal.

Fed. R. App. P. 3(c)(1)(A) provides that 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.” While courts may infer that the attorney is taking an appeal in their own capacity when the sanction is entered solely against them, “the same is not true for a judgment that orders both an attorney and his client to pay fees.”

“The notice of appeal here is fatally deficient. It lists only Batiste as the party appealing; it doesn’t mention Hayes in the caption or body. And … Hayes’s intent to appeal isn’t clear from the notice because the judgment being appealed ordered both Hayes and Batiste to pay fees. Nothing in the notice suggests that Hayes intended to take part as an appellant rather than as Batiste’s attorney. As a result, we lack jurisdiction to review the sanction against Hayes.”

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