Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bowles v. Russell

Today the Supreme Court affirmed the Sixth Circuit in Bowles v. Russell.  After Bowles was denied habeas relief, he failed to file a notice of appeal within the 30-day window.  He then moved to reopen the period to file his appeal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(a)(6).  That rule, which implements 28 U.S.C. s2107, allows a district court, under certain circumstances, to "reopen the time to file an appeal for a period of 14 days after the date when its order to reopen is entered."   The district court granted his motion, but extended the appeal period for 17 days instead of 14.   Bowles noticed his appeal 16 days later--consistent with the judge's order but more than 14 days after "the date when [the court's] order to reopen is entered.

The Court held that the notice was untimely, the time period was jurisdictional, and that no equitable exception applied:

Like the initial 30-day period for filing a  notice of appeal, the limit on how long a district court may reopen that period is set forth in a statute, 28 U. S. C. §2107(c). Because Congress specifically limited the amount of time by which district courts can extend the notice-of-appeal period in §2107(c), that limitation is more than a simple claim-processing rule.” As we have long held, when an “appeal has not been prosecuted in the manner directed, within the time limited by the acts of Congress, it must be dismissed for want of jurisdiction.” Curry, supra, at 113. Bowles’ failure to file his notice of appeal in accordance with the statute therefore deprived the Court of Appeals of jurisdiction. And because Bowles’ error is one of jurisdictional magnitude, he cannot rely on forfeiture or waiver to excuse his lack of compliance with the statute’s time limitations.   ***

Today we make clear that the timely filing of a notice of appeal in a civil case is a jurisdictional requirement. Because this Court has no authority to create equitable exceptions to jurisdictional requirements, use of the “unique circumstances” doctrine is illegitimate.

3 Justices joined Justice Souter's dissenting opinion, which begins:

The District Court told petitioner Keith Bowles that his notice of appeal was due on February 27, 2004. He filed a notice of appeal on February 26, only to be told that he was too late because his deadline had actually been February 24. It is intolerable for the judicial
system to treat people this way, and there is not even a technical justification for condoning this bait and switch. I respectfully dissent.


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