This post concerns computation of time under Bankruptcy Rule 9006. The specific issue addressed is whether a bankruptcy court — when computing a filing deadline — should count a day when its clerk’s office is closed, even if the electronic filing system is available. In a recent case, a federal district judge explained why in his view the day shouldn’t be counted. Labbadia v. Martin (In re Martin), No. 3:20-cv-939, 2020 WL 5300932, (SRU) (D. Conn. Sept. 4, 2020).
The background facts are straightforward. An attorney had represented his client in divorce proceedings. The client paid the attorney less than the full amount billed for services rendered. The attorney sued the client for the balance. While that case was pending, the client filed for chapter 7. The attorney filed an adversary proceeding seeking a declaration that the unpaid fees were nondischargable. The bankruptcy court ruled for the client-debtor, and the attorney appeal to the district court.
The bankruptcy court’s final order was entered on June 22, 2020. The attorney filed a notice of appeal 15 days later on July 7. The client-debtor sought to dismiss the appeal, arguing that the notice was filed beyond the 14-day appeal period set forth in Bankruptcy Rule 8002(a)(1).
“[T]he time prescribed by Rule 8002(a) is jurisdictional,” and thus “in the absence of a timely notice of appeal in the district court, the district court was without jurisdiction to consider the appeal.” In re Indu Craft, Inc., 749 F.3d 107, 115 (2d Cir. 2014).
The attorney argued that July 6 was a “legal holiday” under Rule 9006(a)(6), and thus the notice of appeal filed on July 7 (15 days after the June 22 order was entered) was timely. “Legal holiday” includes New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Washington’s birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day; any day declared a holiday by the President or Congress; and any other day declared a holiday by the state where the district court is located. Rule 9006(a)(6).
Independence Day this year fell on a Saturday. Therefore, the “day set aside by statute for observing” that day was the preceding Friday, July 3. U.S.C. § 6103(b)(1). Thus, Monday, July 6 was not a “legal holiday.” Nor was it a state holiday in Connecticut, the state where the district court is located.
The bankruptcy court and its clerk’s office were closed on July 6. Rule 9006(a)(3)(A) provides that “if the clerk’s office is inaccessible . . . on the last day for filing under Rule 9006(a)(1), then the time for filing is extended to the first accessible day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday.” The question before the district court was whether the bankruptcy court was “inaccessible” on July 6 (which was the last day for filing the appeal that wasn’t a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday) because the clerk’s office was closed that day.
Neither the Bankruptcy Rules nor the advisory committee’s notes to Rule 9006(a)(3) define “inaccessible.” The client-debtor argued that even though the court was closed on July 6, the clerk’s office shouldn’t be deemed inaccessible because the attorney filing the appeal had access to the court’s electronic filing system that day. The notice of appeal could have been filed. But District Judge Stefan Underhill observed that the “the advisory committee notes do not indicate that the existence of electronic filing renders a clerk’s office ‘accessible’ whenever electronic filing is available. 2020 WL 5300932, at *5.
And Judge Underhill noted that the work of a clerk’s office includes more than just making electronic filing available to litigants. In ruling that the appeal was timely filed on July 7, Judge Underhill said, “interpreting ‘inaccessible’ such that a clerk’s office is accessible on days when a court, and thus the clerk’s office, is closed would lead to unnecessarily inequitable results, such as on the facts of this case.” Id. Therefore, the attorney was allowed to pursue the appeal.[i]