Hamer v. Neighborhood Legal Services of Chicago, No. 16-658, 583 U.S. ____ (November 8, 2017).
Determining the time for initiating appeal ought to be perfectly clear, such that no party need fear forfeiture of rights because of untimely filing of a notice of appeal.
Not so! Where both statutory substance and procedural rules provide incongruent time limitations for filing appeals, or for relief from those limitations, legal catastrophe may ensue.
While there may be some leniency available if a procedural (“mandatory claims processing”) rule is involved, failure to conform to a jurisdictional measure will forfeit appeal.
The Supreme Court has reiterated in Hamer that only Congress can confer jurisdiction on federal courts. Accordingly, where Congress has provided by statute a time limitation for filing an appeal, that provision is jurisdictional. Failure to adhere to jurisdictional statutory limits is fatal to appeal. Where a court lacks power to adjudicate a matter, no relief can be granted.
In contrast, courts may arrange the order of their affairs through procedural rules for processing claims. Those rules are not jurisdictional and may, at times, be relaxed as circumstances may require.
Practitioners may find this guidance of some assistance, but no one with any sense would rest easy without scouring both statutes and rules to determine and to document decisions about appellate procedure.