Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Seventh Circuit Remands Case to District Court To Determine Whether Appellate Should Receive Extension of Time to File a Notice of Appeal

By Josh Wolff
Research Attorney, Illinois Appellate Court, First District

In Bell v. McAdory, No. 15-1036, Timothy Bell was civilly detained as a result of being adjudicated sexually dangerous. At a treatment facility, he violently attacked a security guard. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to prison. Once he completed his prison term, he returned to the treatment facility. There, he refused to cooperate with intake procedures, threatened guards, placed paper over his windows to prevent monitoring and disrupted the facility's normal operations. After being insubordinate for 20 days, guards moved Bell into a secure room at the center's infirmary and took away his clothes. Bell spent the next eight days in the room naked, and according to him, uncomfortably cold. On the ninth day, he agreed to cooperate and in return, he was given clothes and returned to the general population.

As a result of his eight-day confinement, Bell filed a lawsuit under section 1983 against various security personnel of the facility, arguing his confinement in the infirmary without a hearing violated the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment. On August 11, 2014, the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

Bell then had until September 8 to file a motion to reconsider or September 10 to file the notice of appeal, the latter necessary to confer appellate jurisdiction. Bell did neither. Instead, on September 11, he filed a motion which the district court treated as one under Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as requesting relief from a final judgment.

The district court denied the Rule 60(b) motion, which itself was separately appealable. Although Bell did not file a proper notice of appeal from the Rule 60(b) denial, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found a document he filed subsequent to the denial contained sufficient information as required by Rule 3(c) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure to be treated as a notice of appeal. Consequently, the Seventh Circuit had jurisdiction over the matter, although its jurisdiction was limited to reviewing the Rule 60(b) denial.

On appeal, however, Bell wanted to challenge the district court's finding of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Consequently, he argued his failure to timely appeal the underlying judgment was due to his mistake as to when the period to file the notice of appeal began to run. The Seventh Circuit, however, concluded that to allow review of the underlying judgment "would be equivalent to accepting a jurisdictionally untimely appeal," citing Browder v. Director, Department of Corrections, 434 U.S. 257, 263 n.7 (1978). Furthermore, the Seventh Circuit noted "there can be no equitable exceptions to the time for appeal" because "[t]hat's what it means to call the time limit jurisdictional."

Bell proffered two arguments around this jurisdictional predicament. First, he argued Rule 60(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure—grounds for relief from a final judgment based on "mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect"—the subsection he argued his motion came under, should be treated differently from Rule 60(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure—grounds for relief from a final judgment based on "any other reason that justifies relief"—the subsection involved in Browder. Second, Bell argued the district court effectively reopened his time to appeal because in the order denying his Rule 60(b) motion, the court stated its original judgment was correct.

The Seventh Circuit found both arguments meritless, as they would require the court to overturn Supreme Court precedent and unjustly give litigants a second opportunity to appeal. Despite rejecting Bell's arguments, the Seventh Circuit found relief was available to Bell under Rule 4(a)(5) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.

Under Rule 4(a)(5)(A)(i), the district court may extend the time period to file a notice of appeal for 30 days if the would-be appellant requests an extension within 30 days "after the time prescribed by" Rule 4(a) expires. The Seventh Circuit wondered why the district court did not treat Bell's September 11 motion as one for an extension of time under Rule 4(a)(5), noting the district court treated the motion originally as one under Rule 60 despite the motion being captioned a Rule 59 motion. The Seventh Circuit further observed that only the district court could grant relief under Rule 4(a)(5).

Therefore, because Bell's September 11 motion was filed within the time prescribed by Rule 4(a)(5)(A)(i) and the rule contains no "outer limit" for when the district court must act, the Seventh Circuit found the district court could still afford Bell extra time to appeal the underlying judgment. Accordingly, the Seventh Circuit remanded the matter to the district court to determine whether Bell should be granted an extension of time to file a notice of appeal against the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. 

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