High Court Picks Up Thorny Cases on Time Limits

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Supreme Court took up two cases Monday where confusing rules about time limits doomed a pair of employment lawsuits. In one case, the worker was following a federal judge’s erroneous orders.

Charmaine Hamer received the erroneous orders at issue after she brought age-discrimination claims against her former employers, the Housing Services of Chicago and Fannie Mae’s Mortgage Help Center.

After a federal judge in Chicago ruled against Hamer at summary judgment, the deadline for Hamer to file her notice of appeal was Oct. 15, 2015.

Hamer requested and was granted an extension, and she filed her notice of appeal on Dec. 11, 2015 – three days before her extension was set to expire.

The Seventh Circuit stepped in at this point, however, because the extension was improper under Section 4(a)(5)(C) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.

This rule states: “No extension under this Rule 4(a)(5) may exceed 30 days after the pre‐ scribed time or 14 days after the date when the order granting the motion is entered, whichever is later.”

On Aug. 31, the Seventh Circuit dismissed Hamer’s appeal.

“Although we recognize that Ms. Hamer relied upon the district court’s erroneous order and was misled into believing that she had until December 14, 2015 to file her notice of appeal, this court simply has no authority to excuse the late filing or to create an equitable exception to jurisdictional requirements,” the ruling states. “Therefore, Hamer’s notice is untimely.”

The court also rejected Hamer’s claim that her ex-employers waived the timeliness issue.

“Had the appellees never challenged the timeliness of Hamer’s notice, they could not waive what this court is bound by statute to uphold,” the ruling concludes.

The Supreme Court did not issue any comment Monday in taking up Hamer’s case.

In the same order, it granted certiorari to a woman who was found to have exceeded a statute of limitations in a separate employment dispute.

Stephanie Artis filed her federal complaint in Washington about two months after the D.C. Department of Health fired her in November 2010.

Though a federal judge granted the department judgment on the pleadings with respect to Artis’ federal claim, the court did not exercise jurisdiction over the claims arising under D.C. law. Artis refiled those claims on Aug. 25, 2014 – 59 days after the U.S. District Court ruled against her – but was again unsuccessful.

Section 1367(d) of Title 28 has language about tolling the statute of limitations, or putting it on hold, but Jude Herbert Dixon Jr. determined that the statute creates a 30-day period for a claimant to file actions over which the U.S. District Court lacked jurisdiction.

There were nearly two years remaining on the statute of limitations when Artis filed her federal complaint, however, and she claimed she had that period, plus 30 days, to file her claims in D.C. Superior Court.

In April 2016, the D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal, agreeing with the district’s interpretation of “tolled” as meaning a 30-day “grace period” will apply if the limitations period for the state-based claims expires while the claim is pending in the federal court.

Artis argued unsuccessfully for the court to find that “tolled” means to suspend the local statute of limitations at the point the federal suit was filed.

Per its custom, the U.S. Supreme Court did not issue any comment in taking up the case Monday.

Artis is represented by Adam Unikowsky of Jenner & Block. The district is represented by D.C. Solicitor General Todd Kim.

In the other case, Hamer is represented by Jonathan Herstoff, an attorney with the Manhattan firm Frommer Lawrence & Haug. Her former employers, Fannie Mae and NHSC, are represented by Linda Coberly of the Chicago firm Winston & Strawn.