Becker v. Montgomery

Decision Date29 May 2001
Docket Number00-6374
Citation532 U.S. 757,121 S.Ct. 1801,149 L.Ed.2d 983
Parties DALE G. BECKER, PETITIONER v. BETTY MONTGOMERY, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF OHIO, et al.SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Petitioner Becker, an Ohio prisoner, instituted a pro se civil rights action contesting conditions of his confinement under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Federal District Court dismissed his complaint for failure to exhaust prison administrative remedies and failure to state a claim for relief. Within the 30 days allowed for appeal from a district court's judgment, see 28 U.S.C. 2107(a); Fed. Rule App. Proc. 4(a)(1), Becker, still pro se, filed a notice of appeal using a Government-printed form on which he filled in all of the requested information. On the line tagged "(Counsel for Appellant)," Becker typed, but did not hand sign, his own name. The form contained no indication of a signature requirement. The District Court docketed the notice, sent a copy to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and subsequently granted Becker leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal. The Sixth Circuit Clerk's Office sent Becker a letter telling him that his appeal had been docketed, setting a briefing schedule, and stating that the court would not hold him to the same standards it required of attorneys in stating his case. Becker filed his brief in advance of the scheduled deadline, signing it on both the cover and the last page. Long after the 30-day time to appeal had expired, the Sixth Circuit dismissed the appeal on its own motion, holding, in reliance on its prior Mattingly decision, that the notice of appeal was fatally defective because it was not signed. The Court of Appeals deemed the defect "jurisdictional," and therefore not curable outside the time allowed to file the notice. No court officer had earlier called Becker's attention to the need for a signature.

Held: When a party files a timely notice of appeal in district court, the failure to sign the notice does not require the court of appeals to dismiss the appeal. Pp. 4-10.

(a) The Sixth Circuit based its Mattingly determination on the complementary operation of two Federal Rules: Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure (Appellate Rule) 4(a)(1), which provides that "the notice of appeal required by Rule 3 [to commence an appeal] must be filed with the district clerk within 30 days after the judgment ... appealed from is entered"; and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (Civil Rule) 11(a), which provides that "[e]very pleading, written motion, and other paper [filed in a district court] shall be signed" by counsel or, if the party is unrepresented, by the party himself. P. 4.

(b) The Sixth Circuit is correct that the governing Federal Rules call for a signature on notices of appeal. Civil Rule 11(a), the signature requirement's source, comes into play on appeal this way. An appeal can be initiated, Appellate Rule 3(a)(1) instructs, "only by filing a notice of appeal with the district clerk within the time allowed by [Appellate] Rule 4." Whenever the Appellate Rules provide for a filing in the district court, Appellate Rule 1(a)(2) directs, "the procedure must comply with the practice of the district court." The district court practice relevant here is Civil Rule 11(a)'s signature requirement. Notices of appeal unquestionably qualify as "other paper[s]" under that requirement, so they "shall be signed." Without a rule change so ordering, the Court is not disposed to extend the meaning of the word "signed" to permit typed names, as Becker urges. Rather, the Court reads Civil Rule 11(a) to call for a name handwritten (or a mark handplaced). Pp. 4-6.

(c) However, the Sixth Circuit erred in its dispositive ruling that the signature requirement cannot be met after the appeal period expires. As plainly as Civil Rule 11(a) requires a signature on filed papers, so the rule goes on to provide that "omission of the signature" may be "corrected promptly after being called to the attention of the attorney or party." Corrections can be made, the Rules Advisory Committee noted, by signing the paper on file or by submitting a duplicate that contains the signature. Civil Rule 11(a)'s provision for correction applies to appeal notices. The rule was formulated and should be applied as a cohesive whole. So understood, the signature requirement and the cure for an initial failure to meet the requirement go hand in hand. Becker proffered a correction of the defect in his notice in the manner Rule 11(a) permits-he attempted to submit a duplicate containing his signature-and therefore should not have suffered dismissal of his appeal for nonobservance of that rule. The Court does not disturb its earlier statements describing Appellate Rules 3 and 4 as "jurisdictional in nature." E.g., Torres v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 487 U.S. 312, 315. The Court rules simply and only that Becker's lapse was curable as Civil Rule 11(a) prescribes; his initial omission was not a "jurisdictional" impediment to pursuit of his appeal. While Appellate Rules 3 and 4 are indeed linked jurisdictional provisions, Rule 3(c)(1), which details what the notice of appeal must contain, does not include a signature requirement. Civil Rule 11(a) alone calls for and controls that requirement and renders it nonjurisdictional. Pp. 6-8.

(d) The Court rejects the argument that, even if there is no jurisdictional notice of appeal signature requirement for parties represented by attorneys, pro se parties, like Becker, must sign within Rule 4's time line to avoid automatic dismissal. The foundation for this argument is Appellate Rule 3(c)(2), which reads: "A pro se notice of appeal is considered filed on behalf of the signer and the signer's spouse and minor children (if they are parties), unless the notice clearly indicates otherwise." That provision does not dislodge the signature requirement from its Civil Rule 11(a) moorings and make of it an Appellate Rule 3 jurisdictional specification. Rather, Rule 3(c)(2) is entirely ameliorative; it assumes and assures that the pro se litigant's spouse and minor children, if they were parties below, will remain parties on appeal, unless the notice clearly indicates a contrary intent. This reading of Rule 3(c)(2) is in harmony with a related ameliorative rule, Appellate Rule 3(c)(4), which provides: "An appeal must not be dismissed for informality of form or title of the notice of appeal, or for failure to name a party whose intent to appeal is otherwise clear from the notice." Imperfections in noticing an appeal should not be fatal where no genuine doubt exists about who is appealing, from what judgment, to which appellate court. See, e.g., Smith v. Barry, 502 U.S. 244, 245, 248-249. Pp. 8-10.

Reversed and remanded.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Opinion of the Court

Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner Dale G. Becker, an Ohio prisoner, instituted a pro se civil rights action in a Federal District Court, contesting conditions of his confinement. Upon dismissal of his complaint for failure to state a claim for relief, Becker sought to appeal. Using a Government-printed form, Becker timely filed a notice of appeal that contained all of the requested information. On the line tagged "(Counsel for Appellant)," Becker typed, but did not hand sign, his own name. For want of a handwritten signature on the notice as originally filed, the Court of Appeals dismissed Becker's appeal. The appellate court deemed the defect "jurisdictional," and therefore not curable outside the time allowed to file the notice.

We granted review to address this question: "When a party files a timely notice of appeal in district court, does the failure to sign the notice of appeal require the court of appeals to dismiss the appeal?" 531 U.S. 1110 (2001). Our answer is no. For want of a signature on a timely notice, the appeal is not automatically lost. The governing Federal Rules direct that the notice of appeal, like other papers filed in district court, shall be signed by counsel or, if the party is unrepresented, by the party himself. But if the notice is timely filed and adequate in other respects, jurisdiction will vest in the court of appeals, where the case may proceed so long as the appellant promptly supplies the signature once the omission is called to his attention.

I

This case originated from a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983 filed pro se by Ohio prison inmate Dale G. Becker in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Becker challenged the conditions of his incarceration at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution, specifically, his exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke. The District Court dismissed Becker's complaint for failure to exhaust prison administrative remedies and failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. App. 5-8.

Within the 30 days allowed for appeal from a district court's judgment, see 28 U.S.C. 2107(a); Fed. Rule App. Proc. 4(a)(1), Becker, still pro se, filed a notice of appeal. Using a notice of appeal form printed by the Government Printing Office, Becker filled in the blanks, specifying himself as sole appellant, designating the judgment from which he appealed, and naming the court to which he appealed. See Fed. Rule App. Proc. 3(c)(1). He typed his own name in the space above "(Counsel for Appellant)," and also typed, in the spaces provided on the form, his address and the date of the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
327 cases
  • Gonzalez v. Thaler
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • 10 Enero 2012
    ...Ibid.; but see, e.g., post, at 659, n. 2 (conceding that the "rule" does not apply to criminal appeals); Becker v. Montgomery, 532 U.S. 757, 763, 121 S.Ct. 1801, 149 L.Ed.2d 983 (2001) (failure to sign notice of appeal is a nonjurisdictional omission). All the cases, meanwhile, involved tim......
  • Scarborough v. Principi
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Federal Circuit
    • 13 Febrero 2003
    ...protects employers from frivolous claims. Id. The Court analogized the situation in the Edelman case to Becker v. Montgomery, 532 U.S. 757, 121 S.Ct. 1801, 149 L.Ed.2d 983 (2001), in which the Supreme Court held that "while the timing and content requirements [for filing a notice of appeal ......
  • Greiner v. Wells
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • 8 Agosto 2005
    ...We have appellate jurisdiction despite the lack of a signature on the initial, timely submission. See Becker v. Montgomery, 532 U.S. 757, 760, 121 S.Ct. 1801, 149 L.Ed.2d 983 (2001) ("[I]f the notice is timely filed and adequate in other respects, jurisdiction will vest in the court of appe......
  • U.S. v. Outen
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • 12 Abril 2002
    ...sufficient notice to other parties and the courts") (quoting Smith, 502 U.S. at 248, 112 S.Ct. 678); cf. Becker v. Montgomery, 532 U.S. 757, 121 S.Ct. 1801, 1808, 149 L.Ed.2d 983 (2001) (excusing lack of signature on notice of appeal on ground that "imperfections in noticing an appeal shoul......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 books & journal articles
  • Motions
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Preparing for Trial in Federal Court
    • 4 Mayo 2010
    ...(2nd Cir. 2000). Note, however, that a notice of appeal filed in federal district court is covered by Rule 11. Becker v. Montgomery , 532 US 757, 121 S.Ct. 1801, 149 L.Ed.2d 983 (2001). • Rule 11 does not apply to administrative cases tried before agencies. Santa Maria v. Pacific Bell , 202......
  • Review Proceedings
    • United States
    • Georgetown Law Journal No. 110-Annual Review, August 2022
    • 1 Agosto 2022
    ...APP. P. 3(c)(4) (“An appeal must not be dismissed for informality of form or title of the notice of appeal.”); Becker v. Montgomery, 532 U.S. 757, 760, 767 (2001) (appellate brief could be treated as proper notice of appeal despite lack of signature because notice timely f‌iled, otherwise a......
  • Table of Cases
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Preparing for Trial in Federal Court
    • 4 Mayo 2010
    ...Cir. 2001), Form 6-16, Form 7-26 Beattie v. D.M. Collections, Inc. , 754 F.Supp. 383, 386 (D. Del. 1991), §7:101 Becker v. Montgomery , 532 US 757, 121 S.Ct. 1801, 149 L.Ed.2d 983 (2001), §7:193 Beckman Ind. v. Int’l Ins. Co., 966 F.2d 470, 472 (9th Cir. 1992), §7:35 Beech Aircraft Corp. v.......
  • Prisoners' Rights
    • United States
    • Georgetown Law Journal No. 110-Annual Review, August 2022
    • 1 Agosto 2022
    ...found plaintiff had access to necessary forms for f‌iling administrative complaint yet failed to do so). 3229. See Becker v. Montgomery, 532 U.S. 757, 767-68 (2001) (appellate court erred in dismissing plaintiff’s pro se complaint because court should have afforded plaintiff opportunity to ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT