Setala v. JC Penney Co., No. 22943.

CourtSupreme Court of Hawai'i
Writing for the CourtLEVINSON, RAMIL, and ACOBA, JJ.; with MOON, C.J., concurring separately, and with whom NAKAYAMA, J., joins.
Citation97 Haw. 484,40 P.3d 886
Docket NumberNo. 22943.
Decision Date08 February 2002
PartiesVincent M. SETALA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. J.C. PENNEY COMPANY, Sharlene Pacheco, Lamar Kauffman, Ryan Takahashi, Deanna Strikolis, Jubahl Hashimoto, and Gary Harms, Defendants-Appellees.

40 P.3d 886
97 Haw.
484

Vincent M. SETALA, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
J.C. PENNEY COMPANY, Sharlene Pacheco, Lamar Kauffman, Ryan Takahashi, Deanna Strikolis, Jubahl Hashimoto, and Gary Harms, Defendants-Appellees

No. 22943.

Supreme Court of Hawai`i.

February 8, 2002.


40 P.3d 887
Vincent Setala, on the briefs, plaintiff-appellant, pro se

Lynn B.K. Costales (Gallagher & Associates), on the briefs, for defendants-appellees.

LEVINSON, RAMIL, and ACOBA, JJ.; with MOON, C.J., concurring separately, and with whom NAKAYAMA, J., joins.

Opinion of the Court by ACOBA, J.

We hold that a notice of appeal is deemed "filed" for purposes of Hawai`i Rules of Appellate Procedure (HRAP) Rule 4(a) on the day it is tendered to prison officials by a pro se prisoner. Accordingly, we remand this case to the first circuit court (the court)1 for an evidentiary hearing, consistent with this opinion, on the issue of whether Plaintiff-Appellant Vincent M. Setala (Plaintiff) tendered his notice of appeal to prison officials on or before the deadline.

I.

This case arises out of a shoplifting incident on March 21, 1994, when Plaintiff entered Defendant-Appellee J.C. Penney Company's (J.C. Penney) store at the Ala Moana Shopping Center and was subsequently detained by J.C. Penney employees. After being apprehended by J.C. Penney employees, Plaintiff pled no contest and was sentenced to a term of incarceration. Plaintiff subsequently filed a complaint against J.C. Penney and others [hereinafter collectively, Defendants] for personal injury arising out of the foregoing incident. At the time that he did so, Plaintiff was, and currently remains, incarcerated at the Halawa Correctional Facility on O`ahu. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on February 12, 1999, arguing that the two-year statute of limitations had run

40 P.3d 888
between the time of the incident, March 21, 1994, and the date Plaintiff had filed his complaint, March 7, 1997. On April 16, 1999, the court granted Defendants' motion, agreeing that the applicable statute of limitations period had run

Plaintiff appealed, signing his notice of appeal on May 14, 1999. The notice was not filed until June 10, 1999. Plaintiff also filed a motion for reconsideration on June 10, 1999. On September 22, 1999, Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration was denied. Due to the motion for reconsideration, the time for appeal was tolled, and this court dismissed Plaintiff's first appeal on November 1, 1999. Plaintiff filed a second notice of appeal, which was filed on November 5, 1999, but which was dated October 17, 1999.

Defendants filed a statement of jurisdiction arguing that Plaintiff was fourteen days late in filing his notice, and that Plaintiff's appeal should be dismissed as untimely. In his statement of jurisdiction, Plaintiff contends that, within the thirty-day period for appeal, he "placed the Notice of Appeal into the Halawa Prison Mail System on October 18, 1999, which date may be ascertained by the Correctional Officer's signature with date/time information that is written upon the back of the envelope at the time it is (by prison policy) sealed,[ ]stamped `confidential', and then placed in the prison mailbox." No envelope, however, is attached to the notice of appeal.

II.

Plaintiff contends that his notice of appeal is timely on the basis of the "Houston Rule," set out by the United States Supreme Court in Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 108 S.Ct. 2379, 101 L.Ed.2d 245 (1988). In that case, the Court, recognizing the unique circumstances of pro se prisoners, held that a notice of appeal in a habeas corpus case is deemed filed, under the rules pertaining to civil cases, at the time the prisoner delivers the notice to prison authorities for forwarding to the courts.2 Relying on Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure (FRAP) Rules 3 and 4, the Court determined that "nothing in Rules 3 and 4 compels the conclusion that, in all cases, receipt by the clerk of the district court is the moment of filing."3 Id. at 274,

40 P.3d 889
108 S.Ct. 2379. Pointing out that, unlike other civil litigants, pro se prisoner litigants cannot personally travel to the courthouse to ensure that their notice is stamped "filed" by the clerk, id. at 271, 108 S.Ct. 2379, the Court departed from the general rule that receipt by the court clerk is required by the declared deadline
The situation of prisoners seeking to appeal without the aid of counsel is unique. Such prisoners cannot take the steps other litigants can take to monitor the processing of their notices of appeal and to ensure that the court clerk receives and stamps their notices of appeal before the 30 day deadline.

Id. at 270-71, 108 S.Ct. 2379. Because a prisoner has no choice but to turn over his or her notice of appeal to prison authorities for forwarding to court clerks, the pro se prisoner is not similarly situated with other civil litigants. See id. at 275, 108 S.Ct. 2379.

Although the Houston Court based its holding on an interpretation of the federal rules, other jurisdictions have also based their adoption of the "mailbox rule" on constitutional equal protection and equal court access grounds. See Haag v. State, 591 So.2d 614, 617 (Fla.1992) (discussing the constitutional implications of not allowing a "mailbox rule").

A rule other than the mailbox rule would interject a level of arbitrariness that could undermine equal protection and equal access to the courts. For example, two pro se inmates who delivered a document to prison officials at the same time, seeking the same relief, and facing the same court deadline, could be treated quite differently based entirely on happenstance. One inmate's petition might make it to the courthouse on time, while the other's might be delayed for unknown reasons. The first would obtain a full hearing, while the second would be denied relief. Such arbitrariness cannot fairly be characterized either as equal protection or equal access to the courts, and it therefore cannot be allowed.

Id. In Haag, the Supreme Court of Florida addressed the state constitutional implications of denying application of the mailbox rule to incarcerated prisoners, when considering a pro se motion for post-conviction relief. See id. at 615-17. "Under the Florida Constitution,4 all persons have a right to equal protection of the laws .... Obviously, this includes a right of equal access to the courts, which serve as the final arbiter of whether life or liberty [or property] may be forfeited lawfully." Id. at 617.

Similar considerations would appear to pertain under the Hawai`i Constitution.5 Of

40 P.3d 890
course, in holding that the "mailbox rule" applies to this case, we express no opinion as to the merits of Plaintiff's substantive tort claims but are concerned only with the principle that, under our constitution, every person is guaranteed the equal protection of the laws and equal access to the courts.

III.

The "mailbox rule" established by Houston applies specifically to civil cases. See In re Flanagan, 999 F.2d 753, 758 (3d Cir.1993) (extending the Houston rule to bankruptcy appeals because "[a] pro se prisoner seeking to appeal a bankruptcy court order faces precisely the same problems as a prisoner who wishes to file a pro se appeal from an order dismissing a habeas petition"); Tapia-Ortiz v. Doe, 171 F.3d 150, 152 (2d Cir.1999) ("Since, with regard to the difficulties inherent in being a pro se prisoner litigant, we see no difference between the filing of a court action and the filing of an administrative claim, we hold that [the mailbox rule] applies to a[ Federal Torts Claims Act] administrative filing."). Since the decision in Houston, state courts have also adopted the "mailbox rule" in both civil and criminal cases. See, e.g., Ex parte Powell, 674 So.2d 1258, 1259 (Ala.1995); In re Jordan, 4 Cal.4th 116, 13 Cal.Rptr.2d 878, 840 P.2d 983, 992 (1992); Haag, 591 So.2d at 615-18; Commw. v. Hartsgrove, 407 Mass. 441, 553 N.E.2d 1299, 1300-03 (1990). Cf. Hamel v. State, 338 Ark. 769, 1 S.W.3d 434, 436 (Ark.1999); State ex rel. Shimkus v. Sondalle, 239 Wis.2d 327, 620 N.W.2d 409, 412 (2000) (distinguishing Houston, because "filing" in state court also includes other procedures such as paying fees).

Although most litigation initiated by pro se prisoners relates to § 1983 claims against prison officials, police, and other government employees6 and involves habeas corpus petitions and other post-conviction relief,7 the mailbox rule also applies when defendants are private litigants.8 In Veteto v. Yocum, 793 So.2d 814 (Ala.Civ.App.2001), Veteto, an inmate in the Alabama state prison system, sued another prisoner, Yocum, for the balance of a loan Veteto claimed he had made to Yocum. See id. at 815. The district court dismissed the case for lack of prosecution when neither prisoner made an appearance in court. See id. Veteto filed a motion for reconsideration and simultaneously appealed to the circuit court. See id. The circuit court dismissed the appeal, due to the pending motion for reconsideration. See id. Plaintiff filed a second complaint, which was again dismissed because neither party appeared for trial. See id. at 815-16. Plaintiff filed a notice of appeal, which was stamped by the circuit clerk as "filed" on March 29, 2000, more than 14 days after the dismissal of his case. Id. at 816. Plaintiff had written on his notice of appeal, "Submission date: March 20, 2000." Id. He also, in an affidavit filed later, indicated that on March 20, 2000, three days before the expiration of the 14-day period, he had given the notice of appeal to a prison official for mailing. See id.

In considering the timeliness of the notice, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals extended Houston to civil complaints, as Alabama had first considered and adopted the Houston rule in criminal cases. The appellate court stated that "we believe that the considerations outlined by the United States Supreme Court in Houston are not...

To continue reading

Request your trial
54 practice notes
  • Silverbrand v. County of Los Angeles, No. S143929.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 23, 2009
    ...v. Williams (2001) 274 Ga. 552, 554 S.E.2d 720, 721-723 (Massaline) [notice of appeal]; Setala v. J.C. Penney Co. (2002) 97 Hawai`i 484, 40 P.3d 886, 888-892 [same]; Tatum v. Lynn (La.Ct.App.1994) 637 So.2d 796, 798-799 [judicial review of adverse administrative decision]; Easley v. Roach (......
  • Martin v. Dep't of Corr., Docket: Kno-17-51
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • July 24, 2018
    ...(Fla. 1992) ; Georgia, Massaline v. Williams , 274 Ga. 552, 554 S.E.2d 720 (2001) ; Hawaii, Setala v. J.C. Penney Co. , 97 Hawai'i 484, 40 P.3d 886 (2002) ; Idaho, Munson v. State , 128 Idaho 639, 917 P.2d 796 (1996) ; Indiana, Dowell v. State , 922 N.E.2d 605 (Ind. 2010) ; Kansas, Taylor v......
  • Matsuura v. EI Du Pont de Nemours and Co., No. 24355.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • July 29, 2003
    ...role of the courts, we have recognized the importance of meaningful access to them. See Setala v. J.C. Penney Co., 97 Hawai`i 484, 491, 40 P.3d 886, 893 The litigation privilege's purpose of encouraging witnesses and parties to take part 73 P.3d 695 in judicial proceedings is based on the p......
  • IN RE CARLSTAD, No. 49080-0-I.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • November 25, 2002
    ...N.W.2d 409, 410-14 (App.2000); Massaline v. Williams, 274 Ga. 552, 554 S.E.2d 720, 722 (2001); Setala v. J.C. Penney Co., 97 Hawai'i 484, 40 P.3d 886 (2002). 3. See, e.g., Kinnard v. Carnahan, 25 S.W.3d 266 (Tex.App.2000); State v. Parmar, 255 Neb. 356, 586 N.W.2d 279 (1998); Grant v. Senko......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
54 cases
  • Silverbrand v. County of Los Angeles, No. S143929.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 23, 2009
    ...v. Williams (2001) 274 Ga. 552, 554 S.E.2d 720, 721-723 (Massaline) [notice of appeal]; Setala v. J.C. Penney Co. (2002) 97 Hawai`i 484, 40 P.3d 886, 888-892 [same]; Tatum v. Lynn (La.Ct.App.1994) 637 So.2d 796, 798-799 [judicial review of adverse administrative decision]; Easley v. Roach (......
  • Martin v. Dep't of Corr., Docket: Kno-17-51
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • July 24, 2018
    ...(Fla. 1992) ; Georgia, Massaline v. Williams , 274 Ga. 552, 554 S.E.2d 720 (2001) ; Hawaii, Setala v. J.C. Penney Co. , 97 Hawai'i 484, 40 P.3d 886 (2002) ; Idaho, Munson v. State , 128 Idaho 639, 917 P.2d 796 (1996) ; Indiana, Dowell v. State , 922 N.E.2d 605 (Ind. 2010) ; Kansas, Taylor v......
  • Matsuura v. EI Du Pont de Nemours and Co., No. 24355.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • July 29, 2003
    ...role of the courts, we have recognized the importance of meaningful access to them. See Setala v. J.C. Penney Co., 97 Hawai`i 484, 491, 40 P.3d 886, 893 The litigation privilege's purpose of encouraging witnesses and parties to take part 73 P.3d 695 in judicial proceedings is based on the p......
  • IN RE CARLSTAD, No. 49080-0-I.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • November 25, 2002
    ...N.W.2d 409, 410-14 (App.2000); Massaline v. Williams, 274 Ga. 552, 554 S.E.2d 720, 722 (2001); Setala v. J.C. Penney Co., 97 Hawai'i 484, 40 P.3d 886 (2002). 3. See, e.g., Kinnard v. Carnahan, 25 S.W.3d 266 (Tex.App.2000); State v. Parmar, 255 Neb. 356, 586 N.W.2d 279 (1998); Grant v. Senko......
  • 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