Misunderstanding Filing Deadline Rule Not Excusable Neglect

Janet McCarty claimed she suffered from physical and mental problems ever since she was hit by a car. She filed for social security disability benefits, but her claim was denied by the agency, and subsequently by an administrative law judge. The agency Appeals Council denied her request for review.

Janet then filed a complaint in federal district court against the Commissioner of Social Security . After the district court affirmed the denial of benefits, Janet appealed. She filed her notice of appeal 63 days after the district court ruled, but Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(1)(b) required her to file the notice within 60 days of the judgment.

To cure the late filing, Janet asked the district court judge to extend the time to file the notice of appeal by three days. To justify the extension, her lawyer stated that he understood the local administrative policies and procedures manual to give him three extra days to file. The district court granted Janet’s motion for the three days.

On appeal, the Commissioner argued that the district court improperly granted Janet the three additional days to file the notice of appeal, and that the appeal was untimely, depriving the appellate court of jurisdiction. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Commissioner and dismissed Janet’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

The analysis turned on whether Janet’s lawyer’s misunderstanding of the filing deadline was excusable neglect, the standard for allowing an extension of time to file a notice of appeal. The court ruled that “A simple case of miscalculating a deadline is not a sufficient reason to extend time, and judges do not have “carte blanche” authority to allow untimely appeals.”

Get the whole opinion, McCarty v. Astrue, No. 07-2104 (6/16/08), by clicking here.