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U.S. Supreme Court Rules Time Limit for Extension of Notice of Appeal Not Jurisdictional

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the time limit set by Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(5)(c) for extensions to file notices of appeal is not jurisdictional. Hamer v. Neighborhood Hous. Servs., No. 16-658, 2017 WL 5160782 (U.S. Nov. 8, 2017). The Court held that appellate deadlines set by statute are jurisdictional, while those set by court rule, like Rule 4(a)(5)(c), are not. Accordingly, litigants who fail to object in the district court to improper extensions granted under Rule 4 may waive that argument on appeal.

In Hamer, the district court had granted the plaintiff a two-month extension in which to file a notice of appeal, even though Rule 4(a)(5)(c) allows an extension of no more than 30 days from the original filing deadline (or 14 days after the extension order is entered, whichever is later). The defendant did not object to the requested extension. 

The Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal on the ground that the Rule’s 30-day limitation was jurisdictional, and therefore could not be waived by the defendant’s failure to object. The Seventh Circuit relied on 28 U.S.C. § 2107(c)—the statute allowing extensions for notices of appeal—and noted that Rule 4(a)(5)(c) is “the vehicle by which § 2107(c) is employed.” Unlike the Rule, however, § 2107(c) does not address the length of the extension a district court may grant (with one exception not relevant to Hamer).

The Supreme Court reversed. Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg retreated from prior Supreme Court opinions that were “less than meticulous” in the use of the term “jurisdictional.” The Court distinguished between appellate deadlines set by statute, which are jurisdictional, and deadlines set by court rule, which are not:

[A]n appeal filing deadline prescribed by statute will be regarded as “jurisdictional,” meaning that late filing of the appeal notice necessitates dismissal of the appeal. But a time limit prescribed only in a court-made rule, . . . is not jurisdictional; it is, instead, a mandatory claim-processing rule subject to forfeiture if not properly raised by the appellee.

Thus, “[i]f properly invoked, mandatory claim-processing rules must be enforced, but they may be waived or forfeited.” The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Seventh Circuit for further proceedings, noting that the Court did not decide whether the defendant’s failure to object in the district court, “by itself, effected a forfeiture,” or whether “equitable considerations may occasion an exception to Rule 4(a)(5)(c)’s time constraint.”

© 2017 Schiff Hardin LLP

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Aphrodite (“Dede”) Kokolis is an experienced litigator with a special practice emphasis on complex and appellate litigation, particularly the defense and settlement of class actions.

She has litigated dozens of class action suits in federal and state courts involving a variety of issues, including insurance coverage and claims practices, consumer fraud, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) issues, distributor and franchise issues, and products liability.

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