July 31, 2016

Fourth Circuit Allows Appeal Where Appellant Gives "Functional" Notice of Appeal

John Austin

On July 12, 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a document filed by a pro se litigant as an extension of time to request a certificate of appealability qualifies as the notice of appeal required by Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. Clark v. Cartledge, No. 15-6248, decided: July 12, 2016.

In 2006, a jury convicted Keith Alan Clark guilty of kidnapping and assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct. He was sentenced to concurrent sentences of 30 years. After a series of unsuccessful appeals and post-conviction procedures in South Carolina courts, Clark filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging several constitutional violations stemming from his conviction, including, among others, that he received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. On December 4, 2014, the district court granted summary judgment for the defendant. In that same order, the district court denied Clark a certificate of appealability, finding that he failed to meet 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)’s standard for issuance of such a certificate. On December 18, 2014, Clark, still pro se, filed a motion for extension of time to request a certificate of appealability.

Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 3(c) requires that a “notice of appeal must specify the party or parties taking the appeal; designate the judgment, order or part thereof being appealed; and name the court to which the appeal is taken.” Fed. R. App. P. 3(c). The requirements of Rule 3 are mandatory and “jurisdictional in nature.”

Here, the Fourth Circuit held that “functional” rather than formalistic compliance is all that is required. The Fourth Circuit, has previously held that the policy of construing notices of appeal liberally applies “especially” to pro se filings. “Therefore, as long as the pro se party's notice of appeal provided the notice required by Rule 3, evinced an intent to appeal an order or judgment of the district court, and the appellee was not prejudiced or misled by the notice, then the notice's technical deficiencies will not bar appellate jurisdiction.”

Appellant attorneys, who are asked to review a recently dismissed pro se appeal, may seek refuge in "function" rather than form.

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John Austin

Principal at John Austin Law Firm in Raleigh, North Carolina.