The Supreme Court ruled yesterday, in Nutraceutical Corp. v. Lambert, that the 14-day deadline under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f) for petitioning a court of appeals to hear a discretionary appeal from a class certification order cannot be equitably tolled. The district court had decertified the class. The plaintiff’s counsel expressed an intent to file a motion for reconsideration of that decision, and a deadline was set for filing that motion. The motion for reconsideration was filed in accordance with that deadline. The petition for permission to appeal was filed within 14 days after the motion for reconsideration was denied. The Ninth Circuit found the petition timely. But the Supreme Court said no.
Justice Sotomayor’s opinion for a unanimous Court explained that “[w]hether a rule precludes equitable tolling turns not on its jurisdictional character but rather on whether the text of the rule leaves room for such flexibility.” Slip op. at 4. “Where the pertinent rule or rules invoked show a clear intent to preclude tolling, courts are without authority to make exceptions merely because a litigant appears to have been diligent, reasonably mistaken, or otherwise deserving.” Id. The Court focused on Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 26(b)(1), which provides that “the court may not extend the time to file: . . .a petition for permission to appeal . . . .” Id. at 5. The Court found no way around the “clear intent” of this rule.
This case is a good reminder for lawyers that not all deadlines can be extended, even if the trial court wants to grant an extension. The Supreme Court noted that some courts of appeals have concluded that a motion for reconsideration filed within the 14-day period extends the deadline for a petition for permission to appeal, on the theory that the class certification order is not “final.” But the Court did not address that issue, so the safest approach would be to file the petition within the 14 days. (And such petitions are limited to approximately 20 pages of large font text.) The Court also noted that a different result might be reached if the district court had misled the plaintiff’s lawyer, but that did not happen in this case.