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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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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