Duties and Discretion of District Court in Implementing Appellate Mandate

The plaintiff in Pardini v. Allegheny Intermediate Unit, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 10196 (3d Cir. May 12, 2008), contended that the District Court on remand had ignored the Third Circuit’s prior opinion, which held as follows regarding the plaintiff’s entitlement to recover attorneys' fees:

We do not think that Mr. Pardini is precluded from recovering reasonable attorneys' fees otherwise provided for under the IDEA merely because he is seeking reimbursement for his own expenses while representing his daughter.... Since Mr. Pardini requested 'such other relief as the Court deems fitting and proper,' in his complaint, he is entitled to recover reasonable attorneys' fees to the extent that he is the prevailing party.

The plaintiff had prevailed in the prior appeal (the Third Circuit had reversed dismissal of their case), yet the District Court denied attorneys' fees on remand. The Third Circuit held that this was consistent with its prior opinion because that “decision did not require that the District Court grant the Pardinis attorney's fees but rather required that it address and decide the issue of whether the fees should be allowed” (stressing, among other things, the discretion conferred by the phrase “otherwise provided for under the IDEA” in the first sentence quoted above). The opinion provides a useful summary of the duties of the district court in implementing an appellate mandate:

It is axiomatic that on remand for further proceedings after decision by an appellate court, the trial court must proceed in accordance with the mandate and the law of the case as established on appeal." Bankers Trust Co. v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 761 F.2d 943, 949 (3d Cir. 1985). "A trial court must implement both the letter and the spirit of the mandate, taking into account the appellate court's opinion and the circumstances it embraces." Id. "The mandate and the opinion must be considered together in their entirety with particular reference to the issues considered." Id. at 950. "From the proposition that a trial court must adhere to the decision and mandate of an appellate court there follows the long-settled corollary that upon remand, it may consider, as a matter of first impression, those issues not expressly or implicitly disposed of by the appellate decision. Id."

Because the question of attorneys' fees had been moot prior to the Third Circuit’s original opinion reversing dismissal of the plaintiff’s case, the issue remained open for the District Court’s resolution on remand.

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