Unanimous Supreme Court Scolds Lower Court Over Appellate Deadline Rule

Author:Ms Allison Kheel and Miranda Watkins
Profession:Fisher Phillips LLP

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that a federal procedural rule that allows a district court to extend an appeal deadline by no more than 30 days is a non-jurisdictional, mandatory claims processing rule. While this is a generally inconsequential decision when it comes to workplace law, it is a decision about which every litigant and participant in the judicial system should be aware, as it could impact litigation options and strategy. While this decision might potentially lead to a slight uptick in extension requests from pro se plaintiffs and overall delays in commencing appeals, it may also have a marginal impact on appellate litigation (Hamer v. Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, et al).

Employment Lawsuit Leads To Appellate Confusion

Charmaine Hamer worked as an intake specialist for Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago and Fannie Mae. Hamer ultimately resigned her employment, and later filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois alleging age discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliation. After rigorous litigation, Hamer's former employers ultimately won summary judgment on all claims and had the claims dismissed. What seemed like the end of the road turned out to be the first step in a long appellate journey.

The following procedural events occurred over the next several years:

On September 14, 2015, a final judgment was entered in favor of the employers. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure (FRAP) 4(a)(1)(A), absent an extension, Hamer had until October 14, 2015 to file her notice of appeal. On October 8, 2015, a week before the original appeal deadline, Hamer timely filed a motion requesting a 60-day extension of the appeal deadline. The lower court granted the 60-day extension, making the new appeal deadline December 14, 2015. On December 11, 2015, three days prior to the new appeal deadline set by the lower court, she filed her appeal with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.  The employers did not challenge the timeliness of the appeal. In fact, their docketing statement conceded that "Hamer filed a timely Notice of Appeal." After receiving briefs on both the procedural questions and the merits of the appeal, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal on its own accord (a "sua sponte" action), holding the lower court lacked jurisdiction because the appeal was untimely.    Hamer then appealed the dismissal to the United States Supreme...

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