427 F.3d 1015 (6th Cir. 2005), 04-4225, Violette v. P.A. Days, Inc.

Docket Nº:04-4225.
Citation:427 F.3d 1015
Party Name:Robert L. VIOLETTE, an individual, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. P.A. DAYS, INC.; Ricart Properties, Inc., Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:November 03, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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427 F.3d 1015 (6th Cir. 2005)

Robert L. VIOLETTE, an individual, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,


P.A. DAYS, INC.; Ricart Properties, Inc., Defendants-Appellants.

No. 04-4225.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

November 3, 2005

Submitted: September 13, 2005

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio at Columbus. No. 01-01254—Algenon L. Marbley, District Judge.

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Sarah D. Morrison, CHESTER, WILLCOX & SAXBE, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellants.

Geoffrey J. Moul, MURRAY, MURPHY, MOUL & BASIL, Columbus, Ohio, James Patrick Connors, LAW OFFICES OF JAMES P. CONNORS, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellees.

Before: BOGGS, Chief Judge; and NORRIS and COOK, Circuit Judges.


BOGGS, Chief Judge

This case presents the court with a narrow legal question regarding the proper application of Rule 6(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Appellants are defendants in a consumer class action lawsuit in which the parties reached a preliminary settlement in December 2003. Appellants challenge the district court's order granting plaintiffs' motion to include in the list of those who excluded themselves from the class settlement two class members whose opt-out forms were postmarked on February 17, 2004, the first business day after the court-ordered deadline of Saturday, February 14. The district court concluded that Rule 6(a) mandates that forms postmarked on the first business day following the court's Saturday deadline were timely filed. On appeal, appellants contend that Rule 6(a) applies only to situations where parties must compute deadlines based on the passage of a fixed number of days and, therefore, the Rule does not apply to situations where the court has established a specific calendar day as a deadline. We agree, and reverse the district court.


In December 2003, the parties to a consumer class action lawsuit reached a global, class-wide settlement of litigation. On December 12, 2003, the district court preliminarily approved the settlements and, pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, ordered that "[a]ny class member who wishes to opt out of the class shall mail by U.S. or overnight mail, postmarked no later than February 14, 2004, an opt-out form" that the defendants would mail to every known class member by December 31, 2003. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(c)(2)(B). Accordingly, the parties mailed notices to more than 130,000 class members and published advertisements in seven newspapers. The mailed notices clearly stated that the exclusion form must be postmarked by February 14. February 14, 2004 happened to fall on a Saturday, and the following Monday was Presidents' Day, a federal holiday. While more than six hundred class members returned their forms within the specified time, the forms from two individuals were postmarked on February 17, the first business day following the court's Saturday deadline.

The district court gave final approval to the settlements on March 16, 2004. The court amended those orders on July 30, 2004 because it had inadvertently omitted the list of persons who had opted out of the class settlement in a timely fashion. By that time, controversy had arisen over the two exclusion forms postmarked on February 17, so the court set the matter for oral argument on August 20, 2004. Neither party cited any case law in the briefs they submitted in advance of this hearing. On September 2, the district court, relying entirely on a ruling from a sister circuit and citing no law from this circuit, granted plaintiffs' motion. Specifically, the district court ruled that the two forms had been filed in a timely fashion under Rule 6(a) because there is "no legally significant reason for distinguishing between a case in which the court set a deadline certain and a case in which the court set the same deadline based on a number of days following a given event." Because the district court based its conclusions on its resolution of the legal question

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regarding the applicability of Rule 6(a), the only issue on appeal is whether Rule 6(a) applies to deadlines set by a court on a particular, fixed, calendar date.


This court reviews questions of law de novo. Coleman v. Mitchell, 244 F.3d 533, 538 (6th Cir. 2001). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, promulgated by the Supreme Court under the Rules Enabling Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2072, derive from a valid delegation of legislative authority. Sibbach v. Wilson & Co., 312 U.S. 1, 9-10 (1941) (rules promulgated within Congress's delegated authority repeal prior inconsistent procedural statutes). This court has noted that the fundamental tenor of the notice-pleading regime of the Federal Rules is "one of liberality rather than technicality." Minger v. Green, 239 F.3d 793, 799 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Miller v. Am. Heavy Lift Shipping, 231 F.3d 242, 248 (6th Cir. 2000)). Nevertheless, courts must begin their interpretation of the Federal Rules, as with other laws, "with the language employed by Congress and the assumption that the ordinary meaning of that language accurately expresses the legislative purpose." Park 'N Fly, Inc. v. Dollar Park and Fly, Inc., 469 U.S. 189, 194 (1985); Castro v. United States, 310 F.3d 900, 902 (6th Cir. 2002) (employing standard statutory canons to interpret Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure).

To avoid a law's plain meaning in the absence of ambiguity "would trench upon the legislative powers vested in Congress by Art. I, § 1, of the Constitution." Dep't of Housing and Urban Dev. v. Rucker, 535 U.S. 125, 134-35 (2002) (quoting United States v. Albertini, 472 U.S. 675, 680 (1985)). "Going behind the plain language of a statute in search of a possibly contrary congressional intent is a step to be taken cautiously even under the best of circumstances." Am. Tobacco Co. v. Patterson, 456 U.S. 63, 75 (1982) (quoting Piper v. Chris-Craft Indus., Inc., 430 U.S. 1, 26 (1977)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The judiciary is not "licensed to attempt to soften the clear import of Congress' chosen words whenever a court believes...

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