U.S. Supreme Court holds statutory deadlines are jurisdictional, court rule deadlines are not and may be waived

Hamer v Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, et al, No. 16-658, Slip. Op.,  2017 WL 5160782 — U.S.–,  (November 8, 2017).

This is an employment dispute, but the key point before the U.S. Supreme Court was the jurisdictional aspects of the timing for certain deadlines.

Hamer filed an age discrimination suit against her former employer, the Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago (“NHSC”).  The trial court granted NHSC’s motion for summary judgment and entered final judgment on September 14, 2015.  Hamer’s notice of appeal was due, pursuant to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, by October 14, 2015. Hamer’s attorneys filed for a 60 day extension but also filed for withdrawal which the trial court granted.  Hamer filed an appeal on December 11, 2015, which should have been timely under the extension. However, the Court of Appeals, on its own, questioned its jurisdiction and timeliness of the appeal. At this point the NHSC chimed in with an objection to the timeliness of the notice of appeal, arguing the court could not extend jurisdiction as such extensions, by Rule, were applicable for only 30 days, not 60. Concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to reach the merits, the Court of Appeals dismissed Hamer’s appeal.  Hamer appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court granted review.

Section 2107 of Title 28 of the U. S. Code,  allowed extensions of the time to file a notice of appeal, not exceeding 30 days, for the lack of notice of the entry of judgment.  The U.S. Code does not address the situation, as here, a party has notice of the judgment.  But Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(5)(C) does prescribe a limit of 30 days.  Rule 4(a)(5)(C) limits extensions of time to file a notice of appeal in all circumstances, not just in cases in which the prospective appellant lacks notice of the entry of judgment.  However, the Court of Appeals erred in applying the Rule as  a jurisdictional bar equal to that of the statute. Only Congress may determine a lower federal court’s subject-matter jurisdiction. Failure to comply with a statutory jurisdictional time prescription, deprives a court of adjudicatory authority over the case, necessitating dismissal. Conversely, claim-processing rules are less stern. If properly invoked, mandatory claim-processing rules must be enforced, but they may be waived or forfeited and do not implicate subject-matter jurisdiction.  Stated another way, if the time limitation is in a statute, it can be jurisdictional. A time limit prescribed only in a court-made rule is not jurisdictional. Since NHSC did not object to the extensions when made, it waived the ability to complain about the extensions on appeal.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court.

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