In a recent case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the lower court’s application of the “law-of-the-case” and “waiver” doctrines. Both of these doctrines are important rules that express the ultimate power of an appellate court in reviewing issues of law. Generally, an issue of law is a question regarding the application of law to a case. Therefore, in pursuing any civil suit, it is imperative to understand the implications and ramifications of an appellate court’s power to change the ruling in your case.
In Bayou Steel Corp. v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Fifth Circuit Court reviewed an insurance dispute that concerned the apportionment of liability for a severe leg injury that was suffered by a worker who was unloading steel bundles. In a complicated fact scenario, Ryan Campbell was injured, in 2002, while unloading steel bundles owned by Bayou Steel Corp. on a barge that was owned by Memco Barge Lines, Inc. Shortly before this incident occurred, Bayou Steel Corp. had contracted with Memco to transport the steel from LaPlace, Louisiana, to Chicago, Illinois. At the time of his injury, Ryan Campbell was working for Kindra Marine Terminal, a stevedoring company that was assigned to unload the steel bundles in Chicago. After the suit involving Ryan Campbell was settled, Bayou Steel Corp. brought suit seeking a declaration of coverage and reimbursement from National Union Fire Insurance.
After a series of appeals, the district court used the law-of-the-case doctrine to determine that Kindra was not a sub-contractor of Bayou Steel. Therefore, Campbell’s injuries fell within the language of the insurance policy that Bayou Steel held. Thus, the lower court entered summary judgment for National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
According to the law-of-the-case doctrine, “when a court decides upon a rule of law, that decision should continue to govern the same issue in subsequent stages in the same case.” Thus, an issue of law “decided on appeal may not be reexamined by the district court on remand or by the appellate court on a subsequent appeal.” Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court that that fact that Campbell did not fall within the exclusion in the policy held by Bayou Steel was part of the law of the case and subsequently held that this issue had been resolved on an earlier appeal.
The waiver doctrine “holds that an issue that could have been raised on appeal but is forfeited and may not be revisited by the district court on remand.” Id. Like the law-of-the-case doctrine, the waiver doctrine “serves judicial economy by forcing parties to raise issues whose resolution might spare the court and parties later rounds of remands and appeals.” However, the waiver doctrine “arises as a consequence of a party’s inaction, [and] not as a consequence of a decision on [the part of the Court of Appeals].” Thus, the Court of Appeals agreed that Bayou had waived their argument about the language of the policy by failing to raise it on remand after the first appeal or during the second appeal … “[b]ecause they failed to raise it during that period, the issue could not [have been] revisited by the district court on remand.”
In its decision, the Fifth Circuit ruled that the lower court had properly applied the law-of-the-case and waiver doctrines and that summary judgment in favor of National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was appropriate.
All of these matters are inherently complicated and show that knowledge of the exact law is necessary to reach a successful outcome. While questions and issues of law must be decided by the court, your legal representative should be aware of the foregoing doctrines and should be able to adequately present your case.
Contact the lawyers at the Berniard Law Firm – our attorneys have the competence and skill to reach your desired result the first time.