In its first opinion of the current term, the Supreme Court unanimously held that Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(5)(C) is a nonjurisdictional claim-processing rule subject to forfeiture, rather than a jurisdictional statutory deadline.
Charlotte Hamer filed an employment-discrimination action in the Northern District of Illinois. The defendants’ motion for summary judgment was granted on September 10, 2015, and a final judgment was entered on September 14, 2015, meaning that any appeal needed to be filed no later than October 14, 2015.
On October 8, 2015, Hamer brought a motion seeking a two-month extension of her time to appeal, and the district court granted that motion the same day. The defendants did not object to that motion. After Hamer appealed, the now-respondents filed their docketing statement in which they acknowledged that Hamer had filed a timely notice of appeal. But after the Seventh Circuit sua sponte questioned the timeliness of Hamer’s appeal, the respondents argued for the time that the appeal was untimely because Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(5)(C) limited any extension to a maximum of 30 days. The Seventh Circuit dismissed Hamer’s appeal as untimely, and Hamer sought certiorari.
Justice Ginsburg began her opinion by acknowledging that the Court had “sometimes . . . mischaracteriz[ed]” the distinction between statutory deadlines, which are jurisdictional and not subject to waiver, and “mandatory claim processing rule[s],” which can be “waived or forfeited.” Rejecting the respondents’ argument that Rule 4(a)(5)(C)’s limit on extensions of time had a “statutory basis,” and concluding that the Seventh Circuit had “failed to grasp the distinction . . . between jurisdictional appeal filing deadlines and mandatory claim-processing rules,” the Court vacated the Seventh Circuit’s dismissal and remanded the appeal. The Court left open the issues of whether the respondents had forfeited any objections to the extension by failing to object, whether the respondents were required to file their own notice of appeal to obtain review of the overlong extension, and whether Rule 4(a)(5)(c)’s limit on extensions is subject to “equitable considerations.”
The lessons from Hamer are two-fold. First, the Supreme Court has now drawn a clear line between jurisdictional and nonjurisdictional appeal deadlines, and attorneys need to be aware of this crucial distinction. Second, because defendants can no longer argue that overlong extensions under Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(5)(C) are jurisdictional, it is imperative that they oppose any overlong extensions, because their failure to do so may well result in the forfeiture of any subsequent extension-related objections.
Hamer v. Neighborhood Housing Servs., ___ S. Ct. ___, 2017 WL 5160782 (Nov. 8, 2017).
Josh Jacobson is with the Law Office of Josh Jacobson, P.A. in Minneapolis, Minnesota.