Unquantified Nominal Damage Award Rendered Judgment Non-Final, Holds Eighth Circuit

In Perficient, Inc. v. Munley, No. 21-2121 (8th Cir. Aug. 9, 2022), the Eighth Circuit was compelled to dismiss an appeal of a summary judgment decision for the plaintiff because the judge left the nominal damage award unfinished.

“Perficient moved for summary judgment against its former employee Munley and Munley’s new employer Spaulding Ridge in a lawsuit involving non-competition and confidentiality agreements that Munley signed when he worked for Perficient. Munley also filed a motion for summary judgment. On April 15, 2021, the district court entered two orders granting Perficient’s motion and denying Munley’s. In these orders, the district court observed that Munley was liable to Perficient on its breach-of-contract claim. The district court determined, however, that no actual damages resulted from Munley’s breach. It instead found that Perficient was entitled to nominal damages.”

Before the court had an opportunity to enter a final nominal damage award, the defendant filed a notice of appeal. The plaintiff moved to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. “Munley argues that the April 15, 2021 orders constituted a final judgment from which he timely appealed. Perficient contends that Munley’s notice of appeal was premature because the district court had not entered a final judgment from which an appeal could be taken.”

The Eighth Circuit grants the motion and dismisses the appeal. “[A] judgment awarding damages but not specifying the amount may still be considered final ‘if only ministerial tasks in determining damages remain.’ . . . . The determination of damages is ‘ministerial’ where it ‘requir[es] no independent legal judgment.’”

In this case, “the district court explicitly left the nominal damage amount unresolved; it ordered that Perficient ‘may file any motion in support of its request for damages’ and that Munley could respond . . . . Without a quantification of the amount of nominal damages, we cannot say that there was ‘nothing for the court to do but execute the judgment.’ . . . . In the standing context, the Supreme Court has treated nominal damages as equivalent to compensatory damages, rejecting the view that ‘nominal damages are purely symbolic’ and the contention that they do not ‘change a plaintiff’s status or condition.’” The panel notes that Missouri law (which governed this diversity case) “there is no standard amount” of nominal damages awarded to parties.

“Further, Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(2) cannot save the prematurely filed notice of appeal here . . . . The rule states that ‘[a] notice of appeal filed after the court announces a decision or order—but before the entry of the judgment or order—is treated as filed on the date of and after the entry.’ . . . . [T]he rule applies ‘only when a district court announces a decision that would be appealable if immediately followed by the entry of judgment’ and does not save a premature appeal ‘from a clearly interlocutory decision—such as a discovery ruling or a sanction order under Rule 11.. . . . .  A ‘belief that such a decision is a final judgment would not be reasonable.’  . . . . Rule 4(a)(2) is inapplicable here.”

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