On December 12, the Tenth Circuit upheld a district court’s denial of a motion for leave to file an untimely appeal. The ruling offers poignant punctuality lessons to attorneys nationwide.
The case concerned plaintiff Emily Boscoe Chung’s allegations that defendant Timothy J. Lamb violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Three years into litigation, Chung’s attorney, Karen Hammer, disclosed that Chung had assigned her FDCPA claims to Hammer before the complaint was filed. The United States District Court granted summary judgment for Lamb on the grounds that Chung had no standing to bring the FDCPA claims that she had assigned to her lawyer. It also called Hammer’s subsequent attempt to substitute in as the plaintiff “the gold standard evidence of intentionally naming the incorrect real party in interest as a tactical maneuver.”
The District Court entered its final judgment on November 14, triggering the 30-day clock for Hammer to appeal the decision by 11:59 p.m. on December 14. Hammer missed it by a hair. At 12:16 a.m. on December 15, she filed a motion for an extension of the deadline to appeal, citing “several client emergencies,” “significant gastrointestinal issues,” and interrupted access to her office network and printer. She also detailed her struggles with the court’s Electronic Case Filing system, noting that she mistakenly logged into a training website rather than the court’s official filing page, and then accidentally logged into the official filing page using incorrect credentials.
Hammer’s pleas fell on deaf ears. The Court framed the issue as whether Hammer’s individual errors or delays rendered the court clerk’s office “inaccessible” under Rule 26(a)(3) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. It held that they did not, referencing cases from around the country where neither power outages at 11:50 p.m., FedEx’s failure to deliver filings on time, nor failed internet connections made the court “inaccessible.” Rather, the court’s system, not the litigant’s, must malfunction to excuse a late filing.
The Tenth Circuit also found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Hammer’s motion for an extension of time to file an appeal. District courts have discretion to extend the time to file a notice of appeal if the party shows “excusable neglect or good cause” under Rule 4(a)(5)(a)(ii) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the lower court that “the real cause of the late notice of appeal was . . . waiting until at or near the deadline to prepare the notice of appeal” and concluded there had been no abuse of discretion.