IN RE: WORLDCOM, INC., Debtor. Communications Network International, Ltd., Defendant–Appellant–Cross Appellee, v. MCI Worldcom Communications, Inc., f/k/a Worldcom Technologies, Inc., Plaintif–Appellee–Cross Appellant.
“[T]he taking of an appeal within the prescribed time is mandatory and jurisdictional.”1 Litigants, moreover, have a responsibility to monitor the docket for the entry of orders they may wish to appeal.2 Nevertheless, the federal rules provide some assistance to litigants in meeting the necessary deadlines. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 77(d) requires the clerk to send notice of the entry of judgment to the parties, and Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(6) permits a district court to reopen the time within which to file an appeal in circumstances in which the litigant does not receive or receives too late this notice.3 But a district court's latitude to relieve litigants of the consequences of failures to file timely notices of appeal is not boundless.
This case presents the question whether the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York properly granted relief under Rule 4(a)(6) to appellant Communications Network International, Ltd. (“CNI”) when it claimed that it never received the Civil Rule 77(d) notice and therefore failed to file a timely notice of appeal. We agree with the district court that CNI met the express preconditions of Rule 4(a)(6). Nevertheless, we hold that relief under that rule is discretionary and its grant in this case was inappropriate. The failure to receive Civil Rule 77(d) notice was entirely and indefensibly the fault of CNI's counsel. Granting relief in such circumstances was at odds with the purposes and structure of the procedural scheme. Accordingly, we reverse the order granting the motion to reopen and dismiss CNI's appeal as untimely.
This litigation has had a long history, but it suffices here to summarize only the critical aspects.
Bankruptcy Court Proceedings
WorldCom, Inc., filed for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Act4 in 2002. MCI WorldCom Communications, Inc. (“MCI”), an affiliate, subsequently commenced an adversary proceeding against CNI in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, in essence to recover for allegedly unpaid telecommunications services. CNI counterclaimed for fraud, intentional nondisclosure, breach of contract, and defamation and sought both compensatory and punitive damages.
On March 13, 2006, the bankruptcy court, insofar as is relevant here, granted MCI's motion for judgment on the pleadings to the extent that it dismissed CNI's counterclaims, but denied the motion to the extent that MCI sought recovery on its claim for unpaid services. It granted CNI's motion to file responses to the unanswered portions of the complaint nunc pro tunc and denied CNI's cross motion for judgment on the pleadings on its counterclaims.5 On July 9, 2007, the bankruptcy court granted MCI's motion for summary judgment to the extent of determining that CNI had breached its contract, but denied it as to the quantum of damages.6 Some months later, it struck CNI's demand for a jury trial on damages and tried the damages issue, ultimately awarding MCI damages, interest and attorney's fees aggregating more than $2.4 million.7 CNI appealed from a number of the bankruptcy court's orders, and the appeals were consolidated by the district court.
District Court Proceedings
The district court affirmed the bankruptcy court's rulings in a memorandum decision on September 14, 2010.8 Judgment was entered on September 24, 2010.9 The rulings were entered on the electronic docket, and notice thereof automatically was emailed to CNI's sole counsel of record, Mr. W. Mark Mullineaux, at the email address email@example.com, which Mr. Mullineaux previously had registered with the clerk's office for the purpose of receiving such notifications on the Southern District of New York's Case Management/Electronic Case Filing (“CM/ECF” or “ECF”) system.10
In September 2008, Mr. Mullineaux filed a motion to appear pro hac vice in this case,11 which the district court granted in January 2009.12 Both the motion and the district court's order listed a new email address for Mr. Mullineaux, firstname.lastname@example.org. But Mr. Mullineaux did not revise his contact information or profile on the ECF system to reflect the new email address, and all notifications in the case prior to and including the notice of entry of judgment were sent to the registered address, wmmullineaux @flammlaw.com.13
On November 9, 2010, forty-six days after the entry of the judgment and fifty-six days after the entry of the memorandum decision and order, CNI filed a notice of appeal from both. By then, the time within which to file such a notice of appeal had expired. While the time within which CNI could have moved pursuant to Rule 4(a)(5) for extension of the time within which to file a notice of appeal had not run, CNI did not make such a motion. On that date, district court records reflect, Mr. Mullineaux updated his email address on the ECF system, and all subsequent filings in the case were sent to mmullineaux @astorweiss.com.
MCI then moved in this Court on December 15, 2010, to dismiss the appeal. On December 16, 2010, CNI moved in the district court for an order, pursuant to Rule 4(a)(6), reopening the time within which to file a notice of appeal. It argued such relief was appropriate because its counsel had not received notice of the filing of the memorandum decision or of the judgment at his current email address, email@example.com.
On January 10, 2011, the district court concluded that CNI had not received timely notice of its affirmance of the bankruptcy court's orders under Civil Rule 77(d) because the clerk's office had sent electronic notifications to the registered but outdated email address, that MCI had not demonstrated that service of that order had been effected, and that MCI had shown no prejudice. On this basis, it granted the motion.14 On February 3, 2011, MCI filed a cross appeal from this ruling. In light of the pendency of the cross appeal, MCI moved on February 7, 2011, to withdraw its motion to dismiss CNI's appeal, and this Court granted the withdrawal on February 23, 2011. CNI's appeal and MCI's cross appeal were consolidated before this Court.
Under Rule 4, notices of appeal in most civil cases must be filed within thirty days of the entry of judgment.15 Civil Rule 77 requires that the clerk, immediately after entering an order or judgment, “serve notice of the entry, as provided in [Civil] Rule 5(b), on each party who is not in default.”16 But this notice is provided “merely for the convenience of litigants.”17 In particular, “[l]ack of notice of the entry does not affect the time for appeal or relieve—or authorize the court to relieve—a party for failure to appeal within the time allowed, except as allowed by Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a).”18
Rule 4(a) has two separate provisions in this regard: Rules 4(a)(5) and 4(a)(6). Rule 4(a)(5) provides that the district court may extend the time for filing a notice of appeal if the party (1) moves no later than thirty days after the time to file prescribed by Rule 4(a) expires and (2) shows “excusable neglect or good cause.”19 The extension may not exceed thirty days after the prescribed time or fourteen days after the entry of the order granting the extension, whichever is later.20 Rule 4(a)(5) was introduced in 1967, derived from a predecessor rule introduced in 1946.21
In 1991, the rules were amended to create a new form of relief in Rule 4(a)(6). In its current form,22 the rule provides that the court may reopen the time to file an appeal for fourteen days from the date that it orders reopening if all of the following conditions are satisfied:
“(A) the court finds that the moving party did not receive notice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 77(d) of the entry of the judgment or order sought to be appealed within 21 days after entry;
“(B) the motion is filed within 180 days after the judgment or order is entered or within 14 days after the moving party receives notice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 77(d) of the entry, whichever is earlier; and
“(C) the court finds that no party would be prejudiced.” 23
As the advisory committee notes explain, Rule 4(a)(6) was introduced “ ‘to permit district courts to ease strict sanctions ․ imposed on appellants whose notices of appeal are filed late because of their failure to receive notice of entry of a judgment.’ “24 After all, “Rule 4(a)(5) ․ would not aid a litigant who first learned of the entry of judgment more than 30 days after the original appeal time ran out” and “[i]t was to the plight of this litigant that the 1991 amendment to Rule 4 was addressed.”25 The advisory committee notes cite a number of cases documenting the “strict sanctions” to which such litigants had been subject.26 In each of these cases, an appeal was dismissed after the clerk's office did not send—or the clerk's office sent but the appellant did not receive—notice of the entry of judgment within the time necessary to file a notice of appeal.27 Thus, notwithstanding the general obligation of litigants “to monitor the docket sheet to inform themselves of the entry of orders they wish to appeal,”28 the 1991 amendment provided a “limited opportunity for relief in circumstances where the notice of entry of a judgment or order, required to be mailed by the clerk of the district court pursuant to Rule 77(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, is either not received by a party or is received so late as to impair the opportunity to file a timely notice of appeal.”29
We consider first whether CNI met the preconditions for relief enumerated in Rule 4(a)(6), which in this case turns on what it means to “receive notice” under Civil Rule 77(d). CNI submitted below that it did not receive notice by virtue of the clerk's office's transmission of notice of the entry of judgment to Mr. Mullineaux's registered but outdated email address. The district court accepted this contention. On its cross appeal, however, MCI contends that (1) notice was properly served by the clerk's office under Civil Rule 77(d) to CNI because it was sent to the email address provided by Mr. Mullineaux and (2) effective service of notice under Civil Rule 77(d) is all that is required for a party to be deemed to have received notice for purposes of Rule 4(a)(6).
The Seventh Circuit recently rejected the latter proposition in a case involving traditional mailing by post, Khor Chin Lim v. Courtcall Inc.30 As the court there noted, the basic issue is that “Rule 4(a)(6) does not mesh perfectly with Civil Rules 5(b) and 77(d). Rule 4(a)(6) talks of ‘receipt’ of a document under Rule 77(d); but Rules 77(d) and 5(b) concern ‘service’ rather than receipt.”31 The court observed that although Civil Rule 5(b)(2)(C) indicates that service is complete on mailing,32 “[t]his rule for what it means to ‘serve’ a document does not tell us that service equals receipt” and Rule 4(a)(6) could have used the word “serve” rather than “receive” if that is what was meant .33 The court further stated that Rule 4(a)(6) was “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” and a holding that service equals receipt “would prevent the rule from serving that function.”34 The court finally noted that “no court of appeals has accepted the ․ 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).”35
Although some district courts have reached a contrary conclusion,36 the Seventh Circuit's reasoning is persuasive. The drafters of Rule 4(a)(6) were concerned with situations in which notice “either [is] not received by a party or is received so late as to impair the opportunity to file a timely notice of appeal”37 and cited not only cases in which notice was not mailed at all, but also cases in which notice was mailed but never actually received by the party.38 Moreover, the committee clearly contemplated a distinction between service and receipt when it said that “[w]inning parties are encouraged to send their own notice in order to lessen the chance that a judge will accept a claim of non-receipt in the face of evidence that notices were sent by both the clerk and the winning party.”39 This reading specific to Rule 4(a)(6) does not render superfluous the language in Civil Rule 5(b)(2) that service is complete “upon mailing” or “upon transmission” because Civil Rule 5(b) applies to numerous situations in which the operative question is indeed service and not receipt.40 Both this court and other courts of appeal have assumed that Rule 4(a)(6) refers to actual receipt, not simply effective service, and we expressly reach that conclusion today.41
Considering the case at hand, the record supports the district court's determination that CNI did not actually receive Civil Rule 77(d) notice by virtue of its having been sent to Mr. Mullineaux's “old email address” from his previous firm.42 While there very well may be situations in which a party must be deemed to have received a properly served Civil Rule 77(d) notice even though counsel never actually read the notice,43 this is not such a case. We therefore hold that CNI satisfied the preconditions for relief required by Rule 4(a)(6).44
But, as several courts of appeal have recognized, satisfaction of the three conditions of Rule 4(a)(6) is not the end of the matter. By saying that the district court “may” grant relief, “the rule does not require the district court to grant the relief, even if the requirements are met.”45 If the district court here understood that it had such discretion, its decision gives no indication to that effect—after analyzing the three conditions of Rule 4(a)(6) and finding them satisfied, the district court granted the motion without further discussion.46 We thus address whether granting the relief was within the court's discretion in the circumstances of this case, and conclude that it was not.
In considering the scope of a district court's discretion under Rule 4(a)(6)—an issue we have had little prior occasion to address—we are guided by an appreciation of the purposes of Rule 4(a)(6) and its positioning in the overall procedural scheme.47 As discussed above, the purpose of the rule was to ease strict sanctions on litigants who had failed to receive notice of the entry of judgment in order to file a timely notice of appeal, whether the fault lay with the clerk or other factors beyond the litigants' control, such as the Postal Service.48 There is nothing in the history of the rules, however, to suggest that the drafters sought to provide relief when the fault lies with the litigants themselves.49
To be sure, Rule 4(a)(6) was meant to permit relief from fault of litigants in one very specific sense—their failure to meet the “obligation to monitor the docket sheet to inform themselves of the entry of orders they wish to appeal.”50 As the advisory committee noted:
“Failure to receive notice may have increased in frequency with the growth in the caseload in the clerks' offices. The present strict rule imposes a duty on counsel to maintain contact with the court while a case is under submission. Such contact is more difficult to maintain if counsel is outside the district, as is increasingly common, and can be a burden to the court as well as counsel.” 51
We recognized this point in Avolio v. County of Suffolk,52 our one prior occasion to consider the scope of a district court's discretion under Rule 4(a)(6). The district court there had denied Rule 4(a)(6) relief to a litigant who otherwise had met the preconditions on the ground that appellants were “obligated to find out when judgment was entered, and counsel's failure to investigate when he did not receive notice of a judgment from the clerk, constitutes unexcusable neglect and does not warrant an extension of time in which to file a notice of appeal.”53 We vacated and remanded, observing that the district court's interpretation would “subvert the central purpose of subdivision (6)” of easing the sanctions on litigants in precisely appellants' position.54 We concluded that although “[w]e need not determine to what extent discretion may lie in the district court under this rule ․ [,] a denial of relief may not be based on the concept of inexcusable neglect for not having learned of the entry of judgment. That concept has no place in the application of subdivision (6).”55
In holding that the court should not deny relief for a litigant's failure to learn independently of the judgment, we did not preclude district courts from considering the fault of a litigant that causes a failure of receipt. It would be curious, after all, not to consider indications that the litigant's own negligence caused the very problem that Rule 4(a)(6) was meant to ameliorate. As the D.C. Circuit has recognized,
“Rule 4(a)(6), unlike Rule 4(a)(5), does not require that the party seeking to file an otherwise untimely notice of appeal show ‘excusable neglect or good cause’ or any other facts in mitigation of his tardiness. That is because, by supposition, his tardiness is not his fault. If in a particular case the movant is at fault-if the movant negligently failed to notify the clerk of his change of address, for example-then the district court may, in its discretion, deny relief under Rule 4(a)(6).” 56
The structure of the overall procedural scheme reinforces the point. Rule 4(a)(5) specifically permits the district court to grant extensions of time in cases of fault-where any neglect by the litigant is “excusable.” But the limitations of the relief afforded by Rule 4(a)(5) reflect a delicate policy balance. No matter how excusable the neglect, the litigant may seek an extension under Rule 4(a)(5) only by motion made within thirty days of the original deadline for filing the notice of appeal. And we have taken a “hard line” when determining whether neglect is excusable under Rule 4(a)(5).57 The balance struck represents an appreciation for the “ ‘sanctity of final judgments in our federal judicial system’ “ and the public policy “ ‘dictat[ing] that there be an end of litigation; that those who have contested an issue shall be bound by the result of the contest, and that matters once tried shall be considered forever settled as between the parties.’ “58 As we have recognized, “the legal system would groan under the weight of a regimen of uncertainty in which time limitations were not rigorously enforced—where every missed deadline was the occasion for the embarkation on extensive trial and appellate litigation to determine the equities of enforcing the bar.”59 We identify nothing in the purposes or history of Rule 4(a) to suggest that a neglectful litigant should be able to sidestep the rigorous requirements of Rule 4(a)(5) embodied in this balance simply because his neglect led also to the failure to receive notice of the judgment. We thus conclude that, at a minimum, a district court exercising discretion under Rule 4(a)(6) should give substantial weight to indications that the failure of receipt was the litigant's fault.
The district court below accepted CNI's argument that the clerk's office was at fault for the failure of receipt, stating:
“The Clerk was supposed to use the information in the Court's Order [granting the pro hac vice motion] to create a new ECF profile, or, if the Clerk found that the attorney already had a profile in the system, to update the contact information on file. The Clerk failed to update Mullineaux's profile with the mailing and email address of his new firm.” 60
We disagree. Section 2.1 of the S.D.N.Y. ECF Rules requires attorneys appearing in cases assigned to the ECF system, as was this one, to register as Filing Users and to provide, among other information, their email addresses.61 The online registration form specifically requires the attorney to attest to the following:
“By submitting this form electronically or in paper form, I hereby agree to abide by all Court rules, orders, policies and procedures governing the use of the electronic filing system. I also consent to service by electronic means in the circumstances permitted under those rules, orders, policies and procedures․ Also, as a participating attorney, I will promptly notify the court if there is a change in my personal data, such as name, e-mail address, firm address, telephone number, etc., and I will update the appropriate data within the ECF system.” 62
Mr. Mullineaux therefore expressly accepted the obligation not only to notify the court if his email address changed, but also to update the ECF system himself.63 The S.D.N.Y. ECF rules further made clear that Mr. Mullineaux's mere inclusion of his updated contact information in the body of his pro hac vice motion, which the district court then included in its order granting that pro hac vice motion, was wholly insufficient to discharge this obligation:
“20.5 Am I required to notify the Court when my contact information changes?
Yes. Local Civil Rule 1.3 requires an attorney to notify the court when his/her contact information changes. For information go to www.nysd.uscourts.gov or call the Attorney Admissions Clerk at (212) 805–0645. Follow the steps below to change your contact information:
(a) If you have a pending case provide notice to the Court and your adversary(s) by electronically filing a NOTICE OF CHANGE OF ADDRESS in each open case where you remain the attorney of record, or
(b) If you do not have a pending case mail written notice of the change to: Attorney Admissions Clerk, United States District Court, 500 Pearl Street, NY, N.Y. 10007.
20.6 What if only my e-mail address has changed?
You can make a simple change of your email address yourself on the ECF system. To update your primary e-mail address click on Maintain Your Account and E-mail Information. However, if your other contact information has changed you must follow the directions above to update your full contact information.” 64
It is undisputed that Mr. Mullineaux did not follow any of the procedures prescribed in the rules to update his contact information until finally changing his email address on November 9, 2010.
Thus, CNI's failure to receive notice was due entirely to Mr. Mullineaux's violation of the “clear dictates of a court rule,”65 as the clerk's office properly transmitted notice of the entry of judgment to the email address in Mr. Mullineaux's profile, and it was plainly Mr. Mullineaux's sole obligation to keep that profile updated. Updating his profile would have taken exceedingly minimal diligence on Mr. Mullineaux's part, and he had every reason to be aware of any problem.66 It is remarkable that Mr. Mullineaux could fail to take these most basic steps to receive proper notifications, while at the same time relying entirely on such notifications to ensure that he filed a timely notice of appeal. In these particular circumstances, we conclude that it was not within the district court's discretion to provide relief.67 CNI's failure to receive Civil Rule 77(d) notice was entirely and indefensibly a problem of its counsel's making, and Rule 4(a)(6) was not designed to reward such negligence.68
We recognize that we appear to be the first court of appeals to identify an abuse of discretion in a district court's grant of a Rule 4(a)(6) motion where the preconditions for relief were met. The “responsibility for determining predicate compliance with [Rule 4(a)(6) ] is vested in the district court”69 and generally the district court will be best suited to weigh the competing factors relevant to a Rule 4(a)(6) motion.70 But, as we have recognized, appellate courts do have a role to play with respect to a district court's exercise of discretion under Rule 4(a) .71 The text and history of Rule 4(a)(6) provide no indication that district court discretion was meant to be unbridled. Rather, appellate review is necessary in light of the systemic importance of the “sanctity of final judgments” that the limitations on Rule 4(a) relief protect.72
In sum, we reaffirm that the Civil Rule 77(d) notice is meant “merely for the convenience of litigants”73 and that litigants at all times have an “obligation to monitor the docket sheet to inform themselves of the entry of orders they wish to appeal.”74 Although Rule 4(a)(6) relief may be available to a litigant who fails to meet this obligation, such relief is discretionary and district courts should exercise their discretion mindful of the purposes and structure of Rule 4(a). Such considerations compelled the district court to deny relief here.75
The district court's order granting CNI's motion to reopen the time within which to appeal is reversed, and CNI's appeal from the district court's memorandum decision and judgment is dismissed .
Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(6) (“Rule 4(a)(6)”) was designed to grant district courts the discretion to allow parties to file untimely notices of appeal under certain circumstances, notwithstanding neglect of their obligation to monitor court dockets to be aware of developments in their cases. In this case, as the majority rightly holds, appellant satisfied the explicit requirements of the Rule, such that the district court had discretion to grant the requested relief. Because the district court did not act arbitrarily or without reason in granting appellant's motion, I would affirm its decision.
The text of Rule 4(a)(6) states that a district court “may” reopen the time to file an appeal “only if” three conditions are satisfied. The district court, having found those conditions satisfied, exercised its discretion to show the appellant mercy. The majority opinion recognizes that the district court's analysis of Rule 4(a)(6)'s conditions was correct. In so doing, the majority follows the Seventh Circuit in holding that Rule 4(a)(6)(A)'s requirement that the moving party not “receive notice” means actual receipt rather than service. I agree that this is the more natural reading of the Rule, and I therefore fully concur in the majority's analysis of Rule 4(a)(6)'s explicit requirements.
Satisfaction of the conditions of Rule 4(a)(6) does not require that relief be granted. Because the Rule provides that, when the conditions are met, the district court “may”—not “must”—reopen the time to file an appeal, the district court has discretion whether to grant the motion or not. Where there is discretion, there is the possibility of an abuse of that discretion. I therefore also agree with the majority that satisfaction of the Rule's explicit requirements, standing alone, does not render a district court's decision immune from appellate review. There may well be cases in which the Rule's requirements are met but the district court's decision is arbitrary or irrational, or in which the reasons either to grant or deny relief so lopsidedly favor one side as to render the opposite decision an abuse of discretion. See Avolio v. County of Suffolk, 29 F.3d 50, 54 (2d Cir.1994) (holding that when the three requirements of Rule 4(a)(6) are met, a district court abuses its discretion by denying relief if that denial contradicts the purposes of the Rule) Nevertheless, I disagree that this case is one where granting relief is not “within the range of permissible choices.” CP Solutions, PTE, Ltd. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 553 F.3d 156, 158 (2d Cir.2009).
The majority would require a district court to “give substantial weight to indications that the failure of receipt was the litigant's fault,” because neglectful litigants would otherwise be able to sidestep the strict time-bar of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(5). Maj. Op. at 18. Note, however, that the Court does not remand the case for the district court to reconsider its decision, giving explicit attention to this factor. Instead, it categorically holds that the district court abused its discretion by awarding relief because appellant was at fault by failing to update its counsel's e-mail address. But by finding that the district court abused its discretion for no reason other than that the appellant was to blame for its failure to receive notice of the adverse judgment, the majority effectively adds an additional condition to Rule 4(a)(6) that does not appear in the text of the Rule itself. According to the majority opinion, district courts may not grant relief, despite the contrary text of the Rule, when the conditions of the Rule are satisfied, unless the litigant was without fault.
The unwritten requirement the majority reads into Rule 4(a)(6) is at odds with the intended purpose of the Rule. The Rule was designed to allow judges to relieve litigants of a type of negligence: failure to monitor the docket. And in today's world, that means it allows judges to excuse failure to monitor the electronic docket.
In this case, appellant's counsel's first mistake was failing to check that docket on a regular basis. His second mistake was failing to update his attorney profile in the district court's electronic notification system on a regular basis. But this second mistake is simply a more specific example of the kind of negligence that, as the majority acknowledges, Rule 4(a)(6) is intended to excuse. See Maj. Op. at 15–16. A rule that gives district courts discretion to excuse failure to use the electronic monitoring system at all is surely broad enough to excuse failure to use that system correctly.
I am sure there are some cases in which granting leave to reopen the time to file an appeal would be an abuse of discretion. Notably, however, I am not aware of any cases, and the majority cites none, in which a court of appeals has found that a grant of this relief, where the Rule's conditions were satisfied, was such an abuse. This garden-variety case of attorney error hardly seems the place to start. Although the district court could have better stated its reasons for exercising its discretion in the way that it did, those reasons are not difficult to discern. There is no indication, for example, that the appellee was prejudiced in any way by the delayed filing of the notice of appeal, or that the appellant acted in a reckless or malicious way. This is not even a case in which a member of the district court's bar, who regularly appears before the court, failed to comply with the requirement of keeping the court advised of his address; rather, counsel is an out-of-state lawyer, admitted pro hac vice, who carelessly (but perhaps understandably) either forgot that the e-mail address he provided in his only previous appearance in the district was now outdated, or believed that his motion for admission on this occasion, which provided his current e-mail address, was sufficient notice to the Clerk of Court of his new contact information. This was an error, but it does not seem to be one that should terminate his client's appellate rights, or preclude him and his client from taking advantage of a rule the entire point of which is to allow a district court to excuse errors of this very type.
The rules ought to be enforced, and lawyers are responsible for learning the correct procedures for practicing before the federal courts. But the primary responsibility for deciding when to excuse non-compliance under the particular circumstances specified in this Rule properly lies with the district courts. The district court obviously decided that it was better to permit the losing party to obtain review of the judgment, rather than to give that party (whose argument on the merits appears to me unlikely to succeed in any event) the impression that substantive rights in the federal courts are forfeit to procedural niceties or minor mistakes by lawyers—or, worse, to invite collateral malpractice litigation in a case that this Court could surely have resolved more easily and expeditiously on the merits than by a lengthy opinion addressing a procedural issue more difficult than the merits of the appeal itself.
In light of the merits of the case, I do not think that the majority works an injustice, and I fully respect my colleagues' insistence that lawyers carefully comply with rules that are after all designed to make it simple and automatic for them to receive notice of developments in their case. Nevertheless, I would defer to the good judgment of an experienced district judge in exercising a discretion granted to him by the rules, in a case in which that discretion cannot fairly be said to have been abused. I therefore respectfully dissent.
Judge Lynch dissents in a separate opinion.