ILNews

Court: Attorney mistake 'inexcusable neglect'

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a woman's appeal following the denial of Social Security benefits because the woman's attorney failed to file the appeal in time under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

In Janet L. McCarty v. Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, No. 07-2104, Janet McCarty's application for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income was denied by the Social Security Administration and an administrative law judge.

She appealed to the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, which issued its final order March 9, 2007, affirming the ALJ's decision. Sixty-three days later, McCarty's attorney, whose name does not appear in the Circuit Court's opinion, filed a notice of appeal, and later filed a motion requesting a three-day extension to file the notice of appeal and supportive memorandum.

The memorandum stated McCarty's attorney misunderstood a paragraph in the Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual for the Southern District of Indiana, Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(e). The U.S. District Court granted the extension to which Astrue filed a motion for reconsideration. The U.S. District Court denied the motion for reconsideration. McCarty filed this appeal arguing evidence fails to support the ALJ's conclusion that she didn't qualify for disability benefits.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals judges didn't even discuss the case in regards to whether the ALJ erred because McCarty's attorney failed to file a timely notice of appeal, which is a prerequisite to appellate review, wrote Judge William Bauer.

A notice of appeal must be filed within 60 days of the entry of a judgment or order being appealed as per Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1)(B). A District Court can extend the time if a party can show excusable neglect for the tardiness.

"The attorney's understanding that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(e) provided him with three extra days to file a notice of appeal is inexcusable. An unaccountable lapse in basic legal knowledge is not excusable neglect," the judge wrote.

The distinction between "entry of judgment" and "service of a notice" is unambiguous to any trained attorney. In addition the 7th Circuit has explicitly stated that rule only applies to documents "served" on opposing counsel, not to documents such as notices of appeals, Judge Bauer wrote.

McCarty's attorney is an experienced litigator of more than 30 years. This mistake amounts to inexcusable neglect, the judge wrote, so the U.S. District Court shouldn't have granted the extension of time to file a notice of appeal.
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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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