CHICAGO (CN) – The 7th Circuit explored what it means to “receive notice” while tossing the “fantastical” conspiracy claims of a Wisconsin man.
Khor Chin Lim’s complaint alleged a conspiracy to ruin his life, orchestrated by his neighbors in a Madison, Wisc., apartment building; a local police officer; the Dane County District Attorney’s Office; the governor of Wisconsin; a former prime minister of Singapore; and Courtcall, which gives notices to litigants.
Lim’s allegations were as colorful as his list of defendants. He claimed that Courtcall caused him to miss a telephone conference related to another lawsuit. The neighbors allegedly stole court documents and “viciously let bugs into [his] premises.”
Lim also accused his landlord of providing keys to trespassers and forcing him to remove a sign from his door that said “Use illegal key dig their mom’s puhkee.”
The complaint also vaguely charged Goh Chock Tong, the former prime minister of Singapore, with “preying upon plaintiff all these years since 1994.” Though it names Gov. Scott Walker as a defendant, the complaint does not explain his involvement in the conspiracy.
After U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa dismissed the complaint “as fantastical,” Lim had 30 days to appeal. It took him almost 90 days.
Lim sought extra time under Rule 4(a)(6), which, unlike other motions, focuses on whether a party “received notice,” rather than on whether notice was served.
Lim, who had represented himself throughout the proceedings, claimed that he had been out of the country and had not realized that his case had been dismissed until he returned and opened his mail. Randa allowed Lim to appeal.
The 7th Circuit was suspicious, noting that Lim used the same excuse in another case.
“We observed that ‘one of these representations must be false,'” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for a three-judge panel. “‘Perhaps both are false.'”
Randa determined on remand that Lim had actually been out of the country, but revoked his ability to appeal “concluding not only that it does not matter when a litigant opens his mail, but also that it does not matter whether the litigant receives a copy of the judgment at all.”
But the federal appeals court rejected Randa’s interpretation of Rule 4(a)(6), finding that “service” by a clerk has no bearing on “receipt” of a document.
“The committee notes to Rule 4(a)(6) show that it is designed to allow a district judge to reopen the time for appeal if notice of the judgment does not arrive – whether the fault lies with the clerk or the Postal Service,” the decision states. “The District Court’s most recent decision would prevent the rule from serving that function.”
Clerks need not obtain a return receipt because under Rule 5(b)(2)(C) service is complete upon mailing. Rule 4(a)(6) defines receipt of a document separately and provides extra time for appeal if it does not occur.
Easterbrook cited rulings by the D.C. and 3rd Circuits in support.
“As far as we can tell, no court of appeals has accepted the district court’s conclusion that a document is ‘received’ for the purpose of Rule 4(a)(6) the instant it is “served” under Rules 5(b) and 77(d),” he wrote.
“But our conclusion that a document is ‘received’ when delivered to the proper address does not assist plaintiff.”
Receipt occurred when the notice arrived at Lim’s home, not when he opened and read the notice, Easterbrook added.
“Plaintiff could have asked the Postal Service, or a friend, to forward his mail,” the decision states. “He could have furnished the District Court with an address where mail would reach him while he was abroad or the name and address of an agent who would receive mail on his behalf and relay it to him. He could have checked the District Court’s electronic docket, which is available from anywhere in the world. … Each of these options would have protected his opportunity to appeal, but he chose none of them.”