Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 6(a)(i) an appeal in a civil case must be filed within 30 days after the entry upon the docket of the final judgment, order or decree from which the appeal is taken. The timely filing of an appeal is a critical jurisdictional requirement. The appeal period may be tolled in limited circumstances, such as a timely filed motion for reargument. The case of Woods v. Woods, Del. Supr. 606, 2015 (Aug. 19, 2015) tested whether a post judgment motion for clarification would also toll the appeal period.
Mr. Woods and Ms. Woods were married in September 2000, and divorced by Order of the Delaware Family Court in January 2009. A hearing on matters ancillary to their divorce was conducted on April 22, 2015. On July 13, 2015 the Family Court issued its Order dividing the parties’ property and awarding Ms. Woods certain attorney’s fees (“Ancillary Order”). Her counsel was permitted to submit an affidavit of fees, and on July 23, 2015 the Court issued its Order awarding Ms. Woods $2,500 (“Fee Order”). Thereafter, on August 7, 2015, Mr. Woods filed a Motion for Clarification seeking to clarify only one sentence in the Ancillary Order. Specifically, he sought guidance on whether the Court intended a flat 50% division of the account or whether the Court intended that the account would be divided equally using the Cooper formula (a specific formula approved by the Delaware Supreme Court for dividing pension benefits). Ms. Woods argued that no clarification was necessary because the Ancillary Order was sufficiently clear that the Cooper formula only applied to the parties’ pensions. In its Order dated October 14, 2015 the Family Court agreed with Ms. Woods (“Clarification Order”). On November 10, 2015, Mr. Woods filed an appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court challenging both the Ancillary Order and the Clarification Order.
The Supreme Court examined the issue of the timing of the appeal sua sponte. The Court found that the Ancillary Order became final on July 24, 2015, the day the Fee Order was docketed. Therefore, any appeal should have been filed by August 24, 2015. The Court noted that although a motion for reargument can toll the 30 day appeal period, the Motion for Clarification filed by Mr. Woods could not be characterized as a motion for reargument. Specifically, the Court held that “even given a generous reading, the motion [for clarification] could not be construed as a motion for reargument . . . The Husband’s Motion for Clarification did not take any issue with any substantive aspect of the Family Court’s [Ancillary] Order but merely sought to correct an error that, upon reading the clearly expressed intent of the [Ancillary] Order as a whole, was an obvious typographical error.” Id. at 5. In addition, the Supreme Court noted that even if the Motion for Clarification could be construed as a motion for reargument, it was not timely filed and “only timely motions for reargument toll the finality of a trial court’s judgment.” Id. at 6. As a result, the Court concluded that it had no jurisdiction to consider the appeal.
The opinion may be read in its entirety here.
Leslie Spoltore is a Partner with the law firm Fox Rothschild LLP. Leslie practices in Fox Rothschild’s Wilmington, Delaware office. You can reach Leslie at (302) 622-4203, or firstname.lastname@example.org.