The Sixth Circuit’s decision in Owner Operator Independent Drivers Assoc. v. Comerica Bank, presents interesting issues about the need for cross appeals and the mandate rule. In a prior appeal, the district court found that the defendant was liable for $5.5 million in damages on one theory, but entered judgment for the defendant on another theory. The plaintiffs successfully appealed, but the defendant did not file a cross appeal challenging the amount of the damages. The Sixth Circuit’s opinion “tacitly” accepted the amount of $5.5 million to be correct. The opinion identified the a statute of limitations issue as needing resolution and then remanded “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.” After the district court found for the plaintiffs, the defendants appealed.
Sitting by designation, Judge Gwin wrote the majority opinion affirming on most of the district court’s decisions, though he wrote a dissent on the waiver and mandate issues. He believed that the prior opinion gave a limited remand that only allowed the lower court to address the statute of limitations issue. He also argued that the defendant waived the damages issue when it did not file a cross appeal or challenge the damages calculation in its brief, when that issue had already been decided by the district court. However, a concurrence by Judges Moore and Cook contained the majority’s opinion on waiver. Interpreting Supreme Court cases on Article III, they held that the defendant did not need to cross appeal because it had won complete relief in the district court—and therefore there was no waiver. They also explained that a limited mandate should “explicitly outline” the issues that the district court should address and emphasized that the language creating this limited mandate should be “unmistakable.”
Although unpublished, this opinion could be a significant case in the Sixth Circuit on when a successful defendant should file a cross appeal, and further strengthens the Court’s longstanding reluctance to find that a prior panel meant to limit the remand without an explicit statement it was doing so.