Budinich v. Becton Dickinson and Co

In Budinich v. Becton Dickinson & Co, 486 U.S. 196 (1988) the Court held that, in general, claims for attorney's fees, whether based on statute or contract, should be considered collateral to and separate from the underlying merits of the action. Id. Moreover, the Court held that a judgment on the merits in any federal court is final and appealable, regardless of whether the outstanding issue of attorney's fees remains unresolved as to either recoverability or amount. Id. The Court considered the impact of a motion for attorney's fees on the finality of a judgment and, hence, the timeliness of an appeal. The Court held that a district court's decision on the merits of an employment compensation claim was "final" under 28 U.S.C. 1291 notwithstanding an unresolved motion for attorney's fees filed by the prevailing party under a Colorado fee-shifting statute. Id. at 199. The Court reasoned: As a general matter, at least, we think it indisputable that a claim for attorney's fees is not part of the merits of the action to which the fees pertain. Such an award does not remedy the injury giving rise to the action, and indeed is often available to the party defending against the action. At common law, attorney's fees were regarded as an element of "costs" awarded to the prevailing party, see 10 C. Wright, A. Miller, & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 2665 (1983), which are not generally treated as part of the merits judgment, cf. Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 58 ("Entry of the judgment shall not be delayed for the taxing of costs"). Id. at 201.