928 F.2d 1522 (11th Cir. 1991), 90-8508, Pinion v. Dow Chemical, United States

Docket Nº:90-8508.
Citation:928 F.2d 1522
Party Name:Mr. Jesse PINION, Mrs. Jesse Pinion, Plaintiffs-Appellees, Maurice Daffron, Shirley Daffron, Plaintiffs, v. DOW CHEMICAL, U.S.A., Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:April 19, 1991
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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928 F.2d 1522 (11th Cir. 1991)

Mr. Jesse PINION, Mrs. Jesse Pinion, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

Maurice Daffron, Shirley Daffron, Plaintiffs,


DOW CHEMICAL, U.S.A., Defendant-Appellant.

No. 90-8508.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 19, 1991

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Donald H. Cockrill, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, Atlanta, Ga., for defendant-appellant.

L. Branch S. Connelly, Cook & Palmour, Bobby Lee Cook, Summerville, Ga., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Before FAY and JOHNSON, Circuit Judges, and PECK [*], Senior Circuit Judge.

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FAY, Circuit Judge:

This case presents a close jurisdictional question involving the potential application of the so-called "unique circumstances" doctrine, a judicially created exception to mandatory filing rules that sometimes justifies our exercise of jurisdiction over untimely appeals. Defendant-appellant Dow Chemical U.S.A. ("Dow") appeals the district court's denial of several post-trial motions challenging a final judgment entered in favor of plaintiffs-appellees Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Pinion ("the Pinions"). Dow's post-trial motions, however, were not timely filed, and thus did not toll the time for filing its notice of appeal under Fed.R.App.P. 4(a)(4). Normally, because appellate Rule 4's filing deadlines are mandatory and jurisdictional, a party's failure to comply with them is fatal to our ability to hear an appeal.

Dow, however, claims detrimental reliance on two district court consent orders which, in spite of the plain language of Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b) expressly prohibiting such action, enlarged the time for filing post-trial motions under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) and 59. Without the court's extension, Dow still could have filed timely post-trial motions and a timely notice of appeal. Because Dow complied fully with the extended deadlines set by the district court, and because the court eventually ruled on the merits of Dow's post-trial motions, Dow argues that these are "unique circumstances" that justify our assuming jurisdiction of this appeal.

We first consider the propriety of the district court's extension of the filing deadlines for motions under Rules 50(b) and 59(a). We conclude that the court was clearly without authority or jurisdiction to do so, thus rendering Dow's post-trial motions and notice of appeal untimely. We then consider whether Dow's untimely filed notice of appeal is nevertheless rehabilitated by the application of the Supreme Court's equitable "unique circumstances" exception to the rigid filing requirements of Rule 6(b) and appellate Rule 4. We find that Dow's admitted inadvertence in simply failing to read Rule 6(b) cannot engender the kind of reasonable reliance contemplated by the Court's narrow "unique circumstances" exception, especially in light of the mandatory and jurisdictional nature of the filing rules at issue. We therefore must DISMISS Dow's appeal as untimely.

I. Procedural Background.

On January 29, 1990, following a jury verdict in favor of the Pinions, the district court entered a final judgment against Dow in the amount of two million, four hundred and fifty thousand dollars, plus interest and costs. 1 Two days later, the district court entered a consent order, in response to a request by Dow, granting a thirty-day extension to the parties to file any post-trial motions. 2 The court entered another consent order on February 23, 1990, extending the filing deadline for post-trial motions to March 8, 1990. The Pinions expressly consented to both extensions. On March 8, in compliance with the court's deadline, Dow filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) or, alternatively, for a new trial under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59. The court denied Dow's motion in an order dated May 5, 1990. Dow subsequently filed its notice of appeal with the district court on May 5, 1990.

II. Discussion.

Although neither party initially raised the issue, we are of course obligated to examine our jurisdiction sua sponte. See Finn v. Prudential-Bache Securities,

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Inc., 821 F.2d 581, 585 (11th Cir.1987), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 917, 109 S.Ct. 274, 102 L.Ed.2d 262 (1988). By memorandum dated June 26, 1990, the parties were requested by the clerk of our court to respond to the jurisdictional question. The presentation of the issues was largely as follows: (1) Notwithstanding the consent of the parties, did the district court lack jurisdiction to extend the time to file post-trial motions pursuant to Rules 50(b) and 59, in light of Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b), which expressly prohibits such an extension? (2) Even if the district court lacked jurisdiction, is Dow's notice of appeal nevertheless effective under the "unique circumstances" doctrine, which sometimes allows appellate courts to entertain untimely appeals? We consider these issues in turn below.

  1. Timeliness of Dow's Appeal.

    In civil cases in which an appeal is permitted as of right from a district court to a court of appeals, a party is required to file a notice of appeal with the clerk of the district court within 30 days after the date of entry of the judgment or order from which the party is appealing. Fed.R.App.P. 4(a)(1). The Supreme Court has emphasized that the timely filing of a notice of appeal is " 'mandatory and jurisdictional.' " 3 Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 282, 108 S.Ct. 2379, 2388, 101 L.Ed.2d 245 (1988) (Scalia, J., dissenting); Griggs v. Provident Consumer Discount Co., 459 U.S. 56, 58, 61, 103 S.Ct. 400, 401, 403, 74 L.Ed.2d 225 (1982); Browder v. Director, Dep't of Corrections of Illinois, 434 U.S. 257, 264, 98 S.Ct. 556, 560, 54 L.Ed.2d 521 (1978); United States v. Robinson, 361 U.S. 220, 224, 80 S.Ct. 282, 285, 4 L.Ed.2d 259 (1960); see Torres v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 487 U.S. 312, 315, 108 S.Ct. 2405, 2408, 101 L.Ed.2d 285 (1988). As the Seventh Circuit has reiterated recently, this proposition "means what it says: if an appellant does not file his notice of appeal on time, we cannot hear his appeal." Varhol v. National R.R. Passenger Corp., 909 F.2d 1557, 1561 (7th Cir.1990) (per curiam) (en banc).

    According to the appellate Rules, a timely motion filed under Fed.Rs.Civ.P. 50(b) or 59 may toll the running of time for a notice of appeal; an untimely filed post-trial motion, however, will not suffice. See Browder, 434 U.S. at 264-65, 98 S.Ct. at 560-61; Kraus v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 899 F.2d 1360, 1362 (3d Cir.1990); Butler v. Coral Volkswagen, Inc., 804 F.2d 612, 617 (11th Cir.1986); Fed.R.App.P. 4(a)(4). In order to be considered timely, post-trial motions pursuant to Rules 50(b) or 59 must be served within ten (10) days after entry of the district court's judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b); Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(b). Further, Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b) unequivocally states that a district court "may not extend the time for taking any action under Rules 50(b) and (c)(2), 52(b), 59(b), (d) and (e), 60(b), and 74(a), except to the extent and under the conditions stated in them." Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b) (emphasis added). The Rules at issue in this case--Rules 50(b) (motion for JNOV) and 59(a), (b) (motion for new trial)--do not provide any mechanism for extending their prescribed ten-day filing deadlines.

    Moreover, the Supreme Court has taken a restrictive view of a district court's power to extend a litigant's time to perform a jurisdictional act, Kraus, 899 F.2d at 1363, 4 and the mandatory nature of the

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    filing rules "is not altered merely by the fact that the district court decided the merits of an untimely new trial [or JNOV] motion." Butler, 804 F.2d at 617. We have stressed repeatedly the jurisdictional, non-discretionary character of the Rule 6(b) admonition regarding the filing deadlines for such post-trial motions. See Wright v. Preferred Research, Inc., 891 F.2d 886, 890 (11th Cir.1990) (per curiam) (ten day period for filing Rule 59 motion "is jurisdictional and cannot be extended by the court"); Pate v. Seaboard R.R., Inc., 819 F.2d 1074, 1084 (11th Cir.1987) (ten day period "for serving new trial motions is jurisdictional and cannot be extended in the discretion of the district court"); Gribble v. Harris, 625 F.2d 1173, 1174 (5th Cir. Unit A 1980) (Federal Rules of Civil Procedure establish strict 10-day delay periods for filing Rule 52 and Rule 59 motions that are jurisdictional and cannot be extended in the discretion of the district court). 5

    In this case, it is undisputed that, in the face of the express language of Rule 6(b), the district court's entry of the two consent orders purporting to enlarge the time within which Dow could file its post-trial motions was clearly beyond the court's authority. Consequently, Dow's alternative motions for JNOV or new trial, filed thirty-eight days after the court's entry of judgment, were not timely. Unless there is some basis for an exception, Dow's notice of appeal was ineffective, since its untimely post-trial motions did not toll Fed.R.App.P. 4's thirty-day filing requirement.

  2. The "Unique Circumstances" Exception.

    Dow acknowledges that it is "clear ... that the trial court did not have the authority to grant the extensions requested by Dow." Brief of Appellant at -ix-. Dow argues, however, that Rule 6(b)'s prohibition against extensions of time for filing post-trial motions must be tempered by equitable considerations. Specifically, Dow relies upon a trio of Supreme Court cases decided in the early 1960's that developed a narrow "unique circumstances" exception to the strict, jurisdictional requirements of the filing rules. See Wolfsohn v. Hankin, 376 U.S. 203, 84 S.Ct. 699, 11 L.Ed.2d 636 (1964) (per curiam); Thompson v. INS, 375 U.S. 384, 84 S.Ct. 397, 11 L.Ed.2d 404 (1964) (per curiam); Harris Truck Lines, Inc...

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