On November 8, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a unanimous decision, held that not all deadlines for filing appeals are jurisdictional; instead, if a time limit on filing an appeal appears only in a court-made rule, and not in a statute, the limitation is a “claim-processing rule,” not a jurisdictional bar, and therefore can be waived or forfeited. Hamer v. Neighborhood Hous. Servs. of Chicago, 583 U.S. —, 2017 WL 5160782 (2017). On this basis, the Court vacated the Seventh Circuit’s dismissal of petitioner’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction, remanding for further proceedings.

The appeal in question stemmed from a summary judgment decision in favor of the defendant/respondents in an employment discrimination suit brought by petitioner. After the case was dismissed, and prior to the deadline for filing an appeal set forth in the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, petitioner’s counsel sought and received the district court’s permission to withdraw as counsel and also obtained a 60-day extension to petitioner’s deadline to file an appeal, so that petitioner could retain new counsel. Petitioner subsequently filed the appeal three days before the extended deadline. The Seventh Circuit nevertheless dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction based on the limitation in Rule 4(a)(5)(C) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure that “[n]o extension … may exceed 30 days after the prescribed time or 14 days after the date when the order granting the motion is entered, whichever is later.” Because the Seventh Circuit construed Rule 4(a)(5)(C) as a jurisdictional bar, which could not be altered by court order, it did not consider whether the limitation could be waived or forfeited.

The Supreme Court vacated the Seventh Circuit’s decision, noting that because only Congress may determine a lower federal court’s subject-matter jurisdiction, “a provision governing the time to appeal in a civil action qualifies as jurisdictional only if Congress sets the time.” Id. at *3. More specifically, because the 30-day limitation on extensions in Rule 4(a)(5)(C) was contained only in a procedural rule and not prescribed by statute, it was merely a “mandatory claim-processing rule, serving to promote the orderly progress of litigation by requiring that the parties take certain procedural steps at certain specified times.” Id. Holding that such rules could be waived or forfeited—for example, by a party’s failure to object—the Court remanded the case to the Seventh Circuit for further consideration.

The Court rejected respondents’ argument that Rule 4(a)(5)(C) had a statutory basis in 28 U.S.C. § 2107(c) and was, therefore, a jurisdictional limit. That statute, last amended in 1991, contains no 30-day limit on extensions, instead permitting the district court to “extend the time for appeal upon a showing of excusable neglect or good cause” so long as the extension is requested no later than 30 days after expiration of the original time to bring the appeal. The statute also permits extensions of 14 days if a party does not receive notice of entry of a judgment. Respondents argued, however, that the pre-1991 version of § 2107 contained a 30-day extension limitation (albeit only for extensions allowed due to lack of notice), and that the legislative history suggested that the failure to maintain the 30-day limitation in the amended version was an oversight. The Court rejected this argument, explaining that it would “resist speculating whether Congress acted inadvertently.” Id. at 6.

This decision clarifies that procedural limitations not contained in statutes are potentially subject to waiver or forfeiture, and that such statutes will be construed narrowly in determining whether a jurisdictional bar applies. The Court’s holding may also provide insight for other matters pending before the Court, such as Cyan, Inc. v. Beaver County Employees, which considers whether state courts have jurisdiction to hear Securities Act class action lawsuits under the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act and involves questions of Congress’s intent and imperfect drafting.

Click here to view Hamer v. Neighborhood Hous. Servs. Of Chicago