Le v. Astrue

Citation558 F.3d 1019
Decision Date10 March 2009
Docket NumberNo. 07-55559.,07-55559.
PartiesVinh V. LE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Michael J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)

Alexandra T. Manbeck, San Diego, CA, for the plaintiff-appellant.

Michael A. Cabotaje, Special Assistant United States Attorney, San Francisco, CA, for the defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, William Q. Hayes, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-05-02030-WQH.

Before: CONSUELO M. CALLAHAN and SANDRA S. IKUTA, Circuit Judges, and MILTON I. SHADUR,** District Judge.

OPINION

IKUTA, Circuit Judge:

In this case, the district court issued an order disposing of cross-motions for summary judgment. The losing party's notice of appeal mistakenly designated only the district court's denial of his motion for summary judgment, rather than both the denial of his motion and the grant of the prevailing party's motion. We hold that Rules 3(c)(1)(B) and 3(c)(4) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, as interpreted by the Supreme Court and in our own precedent, require us to construe the notice of appeal as encompassing the district court's entire disposition.1

I

Vinh Le applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The Social Security Administration denied the application. Le requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), who sub-sequently denied Le's application for benefits. The Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision.

Le filed a complaint in district court requesting judicial review of the Commissioner's decision under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). Thereafter, Le and the Commissioner filed cross-motions for summary judgment. On December 15, 2005, a magistrate judge issued a report recommending that the district court deny Le's motion for summary judgment and grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment. On March 22, 2007, the district court adopted the magistrate judge's recommendation in an order stating:

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that: (1) the Court adopt the Report and Recommendation (Doc. #18) filed on December 15, 2006, in its entirety; (2) Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc #8) is DENIED; and (3) Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment (Doc. #10) is GRANTED. The Clerk of the Court shall enter judgment in favor of Defendant and against Plaintiff.

On March 23, 2007, the district court entered judgment in favor of the Commissioner in an order stating:

The Court ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation filed on 12/15/06, in its entirety. Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is DENIED. Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment is GRANTED. Judgment is in favor of Defendant and against Plaintiff.

On April 23, 2007, Le filed a timely notice of appeal which states in full:

Notice is hereby given that plaintiff in the above-named case, hereby appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit from an order denying plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on the 23th [sic] day of March, 2007.

Le's opening brief on appeal states that the district court "granted the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment in an order dated March 23, 2007," and Le "filed a timely notice of appeal on April 23, 2007." The brief argues the merits of the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Commissioner.

Neither party argues that we lack jurisdiction over Le's appeal of the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Commissioner because his notice of appeal requested review only of the district court's denial of Le's motion for summary judgment. Nevertheless, "we have an independent obligation to inquire into our own jurisdiction." Perez-Martin v. Ashcroft, 394 F.3d 752, 756 (9th Cir.2005). We review the question whether we have jurisdiction de novo. Id.

II

We have jurisdiction over appeals "from all final decisions of the district courts of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1291. There is no dispute that the judgment issued March 23, 2007, and from which Le appeals, is a final decision of the district court. Nevertheless, we must consider whether Le's notice of appeal is deficient in complying with the filing and content procedures established by Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, because a deficiency may present a jurisdictional bar to appeal.

A

We first consider the Supreme Court's framework for determining when noncompliance with Rule 3 creates a jurisdictional bar for an appeal. Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 3(c) states, in pertinent part:

(c) Contents of the Notice of Appeal.

(1) The notice of appeal must:

(A) specify the party or parties taking the appeal by naming each one in the caption or body of the notice, but an attorney representing more than one party may describe those parties with such terms as "all plaintiffs," "the defendants," "the plaintiffs A, B, et al.," or "all defendants except X";

(B) designate the judgment, order, or part thereof being appealed; and

(C) name the court to which the appeal is taken.

. . .

(4) 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.

The Supreme Court has noted that "[a]lthough courts should construe Rule 3 liberally when determining whether it has been complied with, noncompliance is fatal to an appeal." Smith v. Barry, 502 U.S. 244, 248, 112 S.Ct. 678, 116 L.Ed.2d 678 (1992).

In determining when noncompliance with Rule 3 creates a jurisdictional bar, the Supreme Court has distinguished between Rule 3(c)(1)(A), which requires the notice of appeal to specifically mention the parties taking the appeal, and Rule 3(c)(1)(B), which requires the notice of appeal to "designate the judgment, order, or part thereof being appealed."

The Supreme Court has interpreted Rule 3(c)(1)(A) narrowly. See Torres v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 487 U.S. 312, 314, 108 S.Ct. 2405, 101 L.Ed.2d 285 (1988). In Torres, the Court held that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction over a party whose name had inadvertently been omitted from a notice of appeal, id. at 317, 108 S.Ct. 2405. Noting that the "purpose of the specificity requirement in Rule 3(c) is to provide notice both to the opposition and to the court of the identity of the appellant or appellants," id. at 318, 108 S.Ct. 2405, the Court held that the "failure to name a party in a notice of appeal is more than excusable `informality,'" id. at 314, 108 S.Ct. 2405, but rather, "it constitutes a failure of that party to appeal." Id. The Court concluded that "the specificity requirement of Rule 3(c) is met only by some designation that gives fair notice of the specific individual or entity seeking to appeal." Id. at 318, 108 S.Ct. 2405.

By contrast, the Supreme Court has rejected a literal interpretation of Rule 3(c)(1)(B), which requires the notice of appeal to "designate the judgment, order, or part thereof being appealed." In Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 83 S.Ct. 227, 9 L.Ed.2d 222 (1962), a plaintiff filed a notice of appeal from the denial of a motion to vacate the judgment, instead of from the judgment itself. Id. at 179, 83 S.Ct. 227. The Court held that the notice of appeal was sufficient under Rule 3(c) as "an effective, although inept, attempt to appeal from the judgment sought to be vacated." Id. at 181, 83 S.Ct. 227. The Court subsequently explained "the important principle for which Foman stands" is "that the requirements of the rules of procedure should be liberally construed and that' mere technicalities' should not stand in the way of consideration of a case on its merits." Torres, 487 U.S. at 316, 108 S.Ct. 2405 (explaining Foman). The Court concluded that "if a litigant files papers in a fashion that is technically at variance with the letter of a procedural rule, a court may nonetheless find that the litigant has complied with the rule if the litigant's action is the functional equivalent of what the rule requires." Id. at 316-17, 108 S.Ct. 2405. B

In implementing the Court's instructions to apply Rule 3(c) in a nontechnical manner, see id., we have focused on whether errors in the designation of the order from which the party is appealing have prejudiced the other party, Lolli v. County of Orange, 351 F.3d 410, 414 (9th Cir.2003). When "a party seeks to argue the merits of an order that does not appear on the face of the notice of appeal," we consider: "(1) whether the intent to appeal a specific judgment can be fairly inferred and (2) whether the appellee was prejudiced by the mistake." Lolli, 351 F.3d at 414 (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). In determining whether intent and prejudice are present, we consider "`first, whether the affected party had notice of the issue on appeal; and, second, whether the affected party had an opportunity to fully brief the issue.' " Meehan v. County of Los Angeles, 856 F.2d 102, 105 (9th Cir.1988) (quoting Lynn v. Sheet Metal Workers' Int'l Ass'n, 804 F.2d 1472, 1481 (9th Cir.1986), aff'd, 488 U.S. 347, 109 S.Ct. 639, 102 L.Ed.2d 700 (1989)). This non-technical approach to construing notices of appeal is consistent with the requirement in Rule 3 that "[a]n appeal must not be dismissed for informality of form or title of the notice of appeal." FED. R. APP. P. 3(c)(4); see also Smith, 502 U.S. at 249, 112 S.Ct. 678 (holding that the court of appeals erred under Rule 3 in failing to construe a prisoner's informal brief as a notice of appeal where it was timely filed and contained the same information as that required under Rule 3(c)).

In applying this framework, we have held that a notice of appeal is adequate even when it completely fails to indicate the order from which the party is appealing. For example, in Lolli, an appellant filed a notice of appeal...

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