U.S. Supreme Court Clarifies Permissibility Of Extensions Of Appeal Deadlines
In its recent decision in Hamer v. Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, 138 S. Ct. 13 (2017), the U.S. Supreme Court clarified an important issue relating to appeals to the federal circuit courts. At issue in the case was whether a circuit court has jurisdiction to hear an appeal that was filed after the time limit prescribed by the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure (“FRAP”).
The Supreme Court held that a court-made rule limiting the length of an extension for filing a notice of appeal is not a “jurisdictional” rule mandating dismissal of the appeal if the time limit is exceeded. Rather, this type of limitation is a “claim-processing rule” that, in appropriate circumstances, may be found to have been waived or forfeited.
The general issue of the timeliness of appeals in federal civil cases is governed primarily by two sources: Section 2107 of Title 28 of the U.S. Code (a federal statute) and FRAP 4 (a court-made rule).
Though these two sources work in tandem to set a 30-day limit for filing an appeal from an adverse judgment, their language is slightly at odds with respect to extensions of that period. Section 2107(c) states: “The district court may, upon motion filed not later than 30 days after the expiration of the time otherwise set for bringing appeal, extend the time for appeal upon a showing of excusable neglect or good cause.” The statute, however, does not specify how lengthy an extension may be permitted for such cases of “excusable neglect or good cause.”
By contrast, Rule 4(a)(5)(C) of the FRAP appears to prescribe a strict time limit to be applied in all cases: “No extension [of time for filing a notice of appeal] may exceed 30 days after the prescribed time [for filing a notice of appeal] or 14 days after the date [of] the order granting the [extension] motion . . . , whichever is later.”
The Supreme Court in Hamer sought to reconcile these competing directives.
The Hamer Litigation
In the underlying action in Hamer, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois awarded summary judgment dismissing employment discrimination claims brought by a former employee. A week before the appellate filing deadline, the district court provided the plaintiff with a 60-day extension to file a notice of appeal, without objection by the defendant employer.
Pursuant to the district court’s order, the former employee filed her appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit prior to the expiration of the 60 days granted by the district court, but in excess of the 30 days prescribed by Rule 4(a)(5)(C) of the FRAP. The Seventh Circuit, however, dismissed the appeal, finding that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal because it was not filed within the 30-day limit set forth in Rule 4(a)(5)(C).
The Supreme Court unanimously reversed, finding that the Seventh Circuit had erroneously treated Rule 4(a)(5)(C) as a jurisdictional bar to its hearing the appeal. In an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court held that “an appeal filing deadline prescribed by statute will be regarded as ‘jurisdictional’. . . But a time limit prescribed only in a court-made rule . . . is not jurisdictional; it is, instead, a mandatory claim-processing rule” that may be waived or forfeited.
As its basis for this holding, the Court reasoned that because Congress controls the jurisdiction of federal courts, only Congress can limit their jurisdiction. The Court therefore found that because Rule 4(a)(5)(C) (a court-made rule) — and not § 2107 (a federal statute) —capped the permissible length of an extension, the time limitation in Rule 4(a)(5)(C) was not jurisdictional. Thus, the Court concluded, the Seventh Circuit was empowered to determine whether the defendant employer had waived any potential objections to the timeliness of the plaintiff’s appeal.
Conclusions From Hamer
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamer provides needed guidance regarding the timeliness of appeals, but also serves as a lesson of the importance of fully understanding federal statutes and court rules relating to civil procedure. The plaintiff in Hamer followed the order of the district court, but nonetheless fell into a protracted legal battle over appellate procedure. For its part, the defendant employer accepted the district court’s extension without objection and, as a result, may have waived any argument that the appeal should be deemed untimely under Rule 4(a)(5)(C).
Thus, as the Hamer decision highlights, it is critical that parties fully understand applicable deadlines and other rules when contemplating whether to appeal or oppose an appeal in a federal case.
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