Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Seventh Circuit Underscores – Again – The Need to File a Notice of Appeal Within 30 Days of Judgment

By Timothy D. Elliott
Rathje & Woodward, LLC

In Satkar Hospitality, Inc. v. Fox Television Holdings, No. 11-3572, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit underscored – yet again – the importance of timely filing a notice of appeal. Satkar arose from an alleged “pay to play” scenario that sounds all too familiar in Illinois. In 2007, Satkar (which owned and operated a Schaumburg hotel) won a property tax appeal before the Cook County Board of Review (the Board of Review). In 2009, two news outlets reported that an Illinois State Representative had engineered successful property tax appeals in return for campaign contributions. They identified Satkar and its owners as participants in that scheme. The Board of Review reacted by reversing its 2007 ruling.

Outraged, Satkar and its owners brought suit against the Board of Review, its members, and the media outlets. The plaintiffs brought claims under 42 USC § 1983, and state law claims for defamation and false light. In September 2011, the District Court dismissed the state law claims on the ground that those claims were barred by Illinois’ Anti-SLAPP statute. The state law claims and defenses asserted in the trial court presented interesting legal issues. Ultimately, however, none of those issues were heard by the Seventh Circuit.

When the district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ state law claims on September 21, 2011, it entered a judgment under Rule 54(b), thus starting the 30-day appellate clock. However, a week later, during a September 27, 2011 status conference on the remaining claims, the district court judge (in an apparent moment of confusion) suggested he had not issued a Rule 54(b) finding, and invited the parties to request such a finding. Ultimately, in November 2011 (i.e., well after the expiration of the time for appealing the September 21 judgment), the plaintiffs sought an extension of time to file a notice of appeal. The plaintiffs claimed their delay in filing was due to confusion stemming from the court’s comments at the September 27 hearing. The district court granted the extension, and the plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal.

In a September 10, 2014 opinion, the Seventh Circuit dismissed the plaintiffs’ appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The Seventh Circuit began its analysis by reiterating that the timely filing of a notice of appeal is a jurisdictional requirement, and that the “excusable neglect” exception to the 30-day filing requirement is narrowly construed. Id. The Seventh Circuit further noted that the “unique circumstances” exception to the 30-day requirement (which the trial court relied on as a basis for granting the plaintiffs' motion for an extension of time) had been foreclosed by the United States Supreme Court in Bowles v. Russell, 551 U.S. 205 (2007). Thus, the plaintiffs had to live (or die) based on their ability to demonstrate “excusable neglect.”

The Seventh Circuit held that “excusable neglect” may arise from “misrepresentations by judicial officers” or “plausible misinterpretations of ambiguous rules.” However, the court emphasized that a misunderstanding of an unambiguous order or rule does not rise to the level of excusable neglect. Rather, to establish “excusable neglect” a party must “demonstrate genuine ambiguity or confusion about the scope or application of the rules or some other good reason for missing the deadline.” 

The Seventh Circuit did not believe that the plaintiffs met that standard. While acknowledging the trial court’s erroneous statements, the Seventh Circuit noted that those statements, when taken in context, did not create ambiguity. The district court’s September 21 judgment (and the entry on the docket) very clearly reflected a Rule 54(b) finding. The plaintiffs also acknowledged they understood the requirement that a notice be filed within 30 days of a Rule 54(b) finding. Finally, the plaintiffs did nothing to clear up any “confusion” at the September 27 hearing or thereafter. In the face of those facts, the Seventh Circuit found that plaintiffs simply could not claim they had been duped or confused by the trial court’s statements. Accordingly, their appeal was dismissed.

Recommended Citation: Timothy D. Elliott, Seventh Circuit Underscores – Again – The Need to File a Notice of Appeal Within 30 Days of JudgmentThe Brief, (February 4, 2015),

DISCLAIMER: The Appellate Lawyers Association does not provide legal services or legal advice. Discussions of legal principles and authority, including, but not limited to, constitutional provisions, statutes, legislative enactments, court rules, case law, and common-law doctrines are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.