Bankers Trust Co. v. Mallis
In Bankers Trust Co. v. Mallis, 435 U.S. 381, 98 S.Ct. 1117, 55 L.Ed.2d 357 (1978), the Supreme Court considered the issue "whether a decision of a district court can be a `final decision' for purposes of 28 U.S.C. 1291 if not set forth on a document separate from the opinion," as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 58. Id. at 383, 98 S.Ct. 1117.
The Court concluded that the separate-document rule could be waived by the parties, at least where "the District Court clearly evidenced its intent that the opinion and order from which an appeal was taken would represent the final decision in the case." Id. at 387, 98 S.Ct. 1117.
In reaching this conclusion, the Court reasoned that the separate-document rule was intended "to clarify when the time for appeal... begins to run," id. at 384, 98 S.Ct. 1117, and that its application where the timeliness of an appeal was not at issue would merely cause delay:
Certainty as to timeliness, however, is not advanced by holding that appellate jurisdiction does not exist absent a separate judgment. If, by error, a separate judgment is not filed before a party appeals, nothing but delay would flow from requiring the court of appeals to dismiss the appeal. Upon dismissal, the district court would simply file and enter the separate judgment, from which a timely appeal would then be taken. Wheels would spin for no practical purpose. (Id. at 385, 98 S.Ct. 1117.)
In Bankers Trust Co. v. Mallis, 435 U.S. 381, 384, 98 S.Ct. 1117, 55 L.Ed.2d 357, reh'g denied, 436 U.S. 915, 98 S.Ct. 2259, 56 L.Ed.2d 416 (1978), the Supreme Court explained the existence of Rule 58 as a necessity to provide a means to determine deadlines to appeal.
Though the rule is to be applied mechanically to determine whether an appeal is timely, it should not foreclose appellate jurisdiction and may be waived where district courts show intent that the opinion and order be the final judgment, judgment is entered in the docket, and parties do not object to the lack of a separate judgment. Id. at 387, 98 S.Ct. 1117.