District Courts Can Extend Time to File Notices of Appeal Beyond Time Allowed in the Federal Rules

The Supreme Court issued its first opinion of the October 2017 sitting, Hamer v. Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, No. 16-658, 2017 WL 5160782 (Nov. 8, 2017), early last month. We previously previewed this case when the Supreme Court first granted a writ of certiorari.[1] As expected, the Supreme Court clarified an important issue regarding time limits for filing notices of appeal in civil cases. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that district courts are allowed to extend the time for filing a notice of appeal beyond the thirty-day limit prescribed in the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure because the deadline is only set by court rule, not statute, and thus is not jurisdictional.

The Supreme Court used Hamer to resolve a circuit split over whether Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(5)(C) is jurisdictional or whether it is a mandatory claim-processing rule. Jurisdictional time limits “deprive[] a court of adjudicatory authority over the case, necessitating dismissal—a ‘drastic’ result.” Hamer, slip op. at 2 (citing Henderson v. Shinseki, 562 U.S. 428, 435 (2011)). These time limits are “not subject to waiver or forfeiture and may be raised at any time in the court of first instance and on direct appeal.” Id. at 2-3 (footnote omitted) (citing Kontrick v. Ryan, 540 U.S. 443, 455 (2004)). Indeed, courts are independently obligated to consider jurisdictional timeliness rules, even when not raised by either party. Id. at 3 (citing Shinseki, 562 U.S. at 434). Mandatory claim-processing rules, by contrast, can be waived or forfeited if a party fails to object to an untimely filing. Id. However, “[i]f properly invoked, mandatory claim-processing rules must be enforced.” Id. (citing Manrique v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 1266, 1271-72 (2017)). Continue reading “District Courts Can Extend Time to File Notices of Appeal Beyond Time Allowed in the Federal Rules”

Supreme Court to Review Limitations on Appellate Extensions

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari in a case that will provide much needed clarity about the ability of district courts to extend appeal deadlines. The case, Hamer v. Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago (No. 16-658), involves the interplay between 28 U.S.C. § 2107(c) and Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(5)(C). The Court will hear the case during its October 2017 term.

Section 2107(c) provides that district courts may extend the deadline to appeal “upon motion filed not later than 30 days after the expiration of the time otherwise set for bringing appeal.” Rule 4(a)(5)(C), however, provides that no extension “may exceed 30 days after the prescribed time or 14 days after the date when the order granting the motion is entered, whichever is later.”

In Hamer, the Seventh Circuit held that the district court lacked authority to grant a 60-day extension of an appeal deadline in response to a motion that was timely filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2107(c). Relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Bowles v. Russell, 551 U.S. 205 (2007), the Seventh Circuit held that “Rule 4(a)(5)(C) is the vehicle by which § 2107(c) is employed and it limits a district court’s authority to extend the notice of appeal filing deadline to no more than an additional 30 days.” Because the notice of appeal was filed after the 30-day limitation in Rule 4(a)(5)(C), the Seventh Circuit dismissed.

In reaching that conclusion, the Seventh Circuit sided with the Second, Fourth, and Tenth Circuits, which had split with the D.C. and Ninth Circuits on the issue. The Supreme Court’s decision in Hamer should resolve the split and provide the bench and bar with much needed certainty about deadlines to appeal.

A Judge’s Perspective on Interlocutory Appeals

It is one thing to know the high standards that govern requests for discretionary interlocutory appeals. It is quite another to hear two federal judges describe first-hand their extreme reluctance to permit such appeals.

Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and District Judge Harvey Bartle of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania offered that perspective at a meeting of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Appellate Courts Committee on April 15. The most striking theme of their presentation was that it is—and, in their view, should be—very hard to obtain permission for a discretionary interlocutory appeal.

Judge Bartle recalled entering no more than two Rule 54(b) orders to permit an interlocutory appeal and certifying only one interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) in his 23-year judicial career. He noted that district judges are very reluctant to permit interlocutory appeals because they tend to cause delay in trial proceedings.

With respect to appeals under § 1292(b) specifically, Judge Bartle said that he rarely sees grounds for a substantial difference of opinion on the legal issue involved. In particular, he noted that district judges tend not to be moved by a split in authority between themselves and a court in another district. The circumstance in which a substantial difference of opinion is most likely to be found is where district judges within the same district are split on an issue.

Judge Ambro discussed interlocutory appeals under § 1292(b) as well. He said that while § 1292(b) is intended to be a flexible path for immediate appeal, it is an avenue that, in his experience, is not often used. The Third Circuit is most likely to take an appeal under § 1292(b) where it sees a controlling issue of law that could recur in other cases. Where the primary rationale for an interlocutory appeal under § 1292(b) is dispute resolution, Judge Ambro said that the court is much less likely to grant permission to appeal.

Judge Ambro also spoke about interlocutory appeals of class certification decisions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f). He suggested that the Third Circuit is more likely to grant an appeal under Rule 23(f) if the district court has certified the class than it is where the district court has denied certification. Judge Ambro also reported that certifications under Rule 23(f) have declined significantly over the last three years as compared to the several previous years.

With regard to mandamus petitions, Judge Ambro said, “In my 15 years, I’ve seen mandamus work maybe once.” Mandamus is simply “not part of the culture” of the Third Circuit. Even compared to other types of interlocutory appeals, seeking mandamus stands out as particularly unlikely to be effective.

Litigators who do not often practice in appellate courts can easily underestimate the difficulty in obtaining permission for an interlocutory appeal. By underscoring these difficulties, Judge Ambro and Judge Bartle’s presentation offered an important strategic insight for lawyers practicing in the Third Circuit.

The Dangers of Relying on ECF Notices

Eighteen lawyers at two different law firms received ECF notifications of orders denying their client’s post-judgment motions. But the ECF notifications did not accurately describe the content of those orders. The attorneys relied on the incorrect descriptions in the ECF notifications and did not open the orders or realize that the post-judgment motions had been denied. As a result, they missed the 30-day deadline to appeal a $40 million judgment entered against their client. The Federal Circuit has now affirmed the trial court’s refusal to extend or reopen the deadline to appeal under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(5) and (6).

This cautionary tale highlights a simple point: a lawyer should open and read every document received by ECF notification. Lawyers who rely on the clerk’s description in notifications do so at their own risk.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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