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By Scott Hroza
Failing to file a timely post-trial motion is one of the most common ways an attorney can get sued for malpractice. On April 24, 2023, the Supreme Court of the United States will be hearing oral argument in Dupree v. Younger on whether to preserve the issue for appellate review, a party must reassert in a post-trial motion a purely legal issue rejected at summary judgment. The Supreme Court has the unique opportunity settle a split of authority between jurisdictions and set the record straight once and for all.
In Dupree v. Younger, Younger was a pretrial detainee at a state prison in Baltimore. (Dupree v. Younger, 2022 WL 738610, at *1 (4th Cir. Mar. 11, 2022). Younger was assaulted by three prison guards at the direction of Dupree. (Ibid.) Younger filed a lawsuit alleging a constitutional violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Ibid.) Dupree moved for summary judgment, arguing that Younger’s claims were barred because Younger failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies. (Ibid.) The District Court rejected Dupree’s argument and denied his summary judgment motion. (Ibid.) The case proceeded to trial, where Dupree lost. (Id. at *2.) Dupree did not raise an exhaustion of administrative remedies defense during the trial or in a post-trial motion, but after the entry of final judgment. (Ibid.) The Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal because the issue of exhaustion was not properly before the Court, and its review was therefore precluded. (Id. at *3.)
There is a split of authority between the jurisdictions. The Fourth Circuit follows the minority rule, which states: “A Court will not review, under any standard, the pretrial denial of a motion for summary judgment after a full trial and final judgment on the merits, when the issue rejected pretrial has not been pursued in the district court by way of a post-trial motion.” (Chesapeake Paper Prod. Co. v. Stone & Webster Eng’g Corp., 51 F.3d 1229, 1237 (4th. Cir. 1995). The majority rule however, posits that: “The general rule is that a party is entitled to a single appeal, to be deferred until final judgment has been entered, in which claims of district court error at any stage of the litigation may be ventilated.” (Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 712 (1996).
The circuits are divided on this issue by an 8-3-1 split. Clarification by the Supreme Court and the creation of a bright line rule will help attorneys everywhere as they navigate this common issue. Be sure to keep a close eye on this case as the Supreme Court hears oral argument. In the meantime, make sure you know whether your jurisdiction follows the majority or minority rule.
For more information, please contact Scott Hroza at [email protected], or your local FMG attorney.