Related: Bashman Archive

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling last week in Bowles v. Russell contains an important reminder for lawyers who handle appeals before the intermediate federal appellate courts: If an appeal is not filed within the time provided by federal statute, the appeal cannot be heard and decided on the merits.
In other words, the time for appeal set forth in the governing federal statutes is jurisdictional, meaning that unless an appeal is taken within the time allowed, a federal appellate court will be unable to issue a ruling on the merits of the case no matter how compelling the excuse for missing the deadline happens to be.

The excuse at issue in the Bowles case was about as compelling of an excuse as can be envisioned. That case reached the federal courts as a habeas corpus action in which a man convicted of murder in the Ohio state court system was seeking federal habeas relief. After the federal district court denied relief, the petitioner filed a timely motion for reconsideration under a provision of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that postpones the start of the 30-day period in which to appeal until the motion for reconsideration is decided.

For whatever reason, the habeas petitioner did not receive timely notification of the federal district court’s entry of an order denying the motion for reconsideration. Instead, he learned of the denial of his motion about three months after the order denying the motion had been entered. By then, the original deadline for appeal had expired approximately two months earlier.

But all hope was not yet lost. The habeas petitioner asked the federal district court to reopen the time in which to file an appeal pursuant to
Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(6) and 28 U.S.C. �2107(c). Rule 4(a)(6), in accordance with that federal statutory provision, allows a federal district court, if certain specified conditions are satisfied, to “reopen the time to file an appeal for a period of 14 days after the date when its order to reopen is entered.”

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