By Charles E. Harper and Daniel Lewin
Partner, Quarles & Brady LLP
In Robinson v. Sweeny, 794 F.3d 782, 2015 WL 4477987 (7th Cir. 2015), the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit dismissed a pro se litigant’s appeal as untimely based on what the court called a “pitfall” of Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) and 6(b)(2).
In this “odd and confused case” (794 F.3d at 783), plaintiff, a prisoner in an Illinois jail, was attacked by a fellow prisoner while in custody. Plaintiff filed a pro se Section 1983 action against the guards and security personnel for failing to protect him. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.
Two days before plaintiff’s deadline to file a Rule 59(e) motion, plaintiff moved to extend the deadline to file such a motion, unaware that under Rule 6(b)(2), that deadline could not be extended. Plaintiff then missed the deadline to file a Rule 59(e) motion.
Nonetheless, the district court ruled a month later that, although it could not extend plaintiff’s deadline to file a Rule 59(e) motion, it would treat plaintiff’s motion for an extension as a timely filed Rule 59(e) motion and ordered plaintiff to supplement that motion with substantive grounds for relief. When plaintiff failed to supplement, the court denied the “Rule 59(e)” motion. Twelve days after that ruling, plaintiff filed another such motion, which the district court construed as a Rule 60(b) motion and denied. Plaintiff then filed a notice of appeal.
In an opinion authored by Judge Posner, the Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal as untimely. The court noted that, while a “proper and timely Rule 59(e) motion freezes the time for appeal until the judge decides the motion,” the plaintiff’s Rule 59(e) motion was not proper. The court explained that the plaintiff “missed the 28-day deadline for making a genuine Rule 59(e) motion and therefore could obtain no relief under that rule.” Id. Noting that procedural rules apply with equal rigor to pro se litigants (id. at 784), the court nonetheless lamented that no one had explained the hard deadline to the plaintiff. The court suggested that in the future, district courts should take care to advise pro se litigants of “the options and associated deadlines for reconsideration or appeal of the judgment.” Id.
Recommended Citation: Charles E. Harper and Daniel Lewin, Court Strictly Enforces Rule 59(e) Deadline Against Pro se Litigant, The Brief (October 19, 2015), http://applawyers-thebrief.blogspot.com/2015/10/court-strictly-enforces-rule-59e.html.
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