Bowles v. Russell

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Opinion [Justice Thomas]
Dissent [Justice Souter]




certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the sixth circuit

No. 06–5306. Argued March 26, 2007—Decided June 14, 2007

Having failed to file a timely notice of appeal from the Federal District Court’s denial of habeas relief, petitioner Bowles moved to reopen the filing period pursuant to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(6), which allows a district court to grant a 14-day extension under certain conditions, see 28 U. S. C. §2107(c). The District Court granted Bowles’ motion but inexplicably gave him 17 days to file his notice of appeal. He filed within the 17 days allowed by the District Court, but after the 14-day period allowed by Rule 4(a)(6) and §2107(c). The Sixth Circuit held that the notice was untimely and that it therefore lacked jurisdiction to hear the case under this Court’s precedent.

Held: Bowles’ untimely notice of appeal—though filed in reliance upon the District Court’s order—deprived the Sixth Circuit of jurisdiction. Pp. 2–10.

(a) The taking of an appeal in a civil case within the time prescribed by statute is “mandatory and jurisdictional.” Griggs v. Provident Consumer Discount Co., 459 U. S. 56, 61 (per curiam). There is a significant distinction between time limitations set forth in a statute such as §2107, which limit a court’s jurisdiction, see, e.g., Kontrick v. Ryan, 540 U. S. 443, 453, and those based on court rules, which do not, see, e.g., id., at 454. Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U. S. 500, 505, and Scarborough v. Principi, 541 U. S. 401, 314, distinguished. Because Congress decides, within constitutional bounds, whether federal courts can hear cases at all, it can also determine when, and under what conditions, federal courts can hear them. See United States v. Curry, 6 How. 106, 113. And when an “appeal has not been prosecuted in the manner directed, within the time limited by the acts of Congress, it must be dismissed for want of jurisdiction.” Id., at 113. The resolution of this case follows naturally from this reasoning. Because Congress specifically limited the amount of time by which district courts can extend the notice-of-appeal period in §2107(c), Bowles’ failure to file in accordance with the statute deprived the Court of Appeals of jurisdiction. And because Bowles’ error is one of jurisdictional magnitude, he cannot rely on forfeiture or waiver to excuse his lack of compliance. Pp. 4–8.

(b) Bowles’ reliance on the “unique circumstances” doctrine, rooted in Harris Truck Lines, Inc. v. Cherry Meat Packers, Inc., 371 U. S. 215 (per curiam) and applied in Thompson v. INS, 375 U. S. 384 (per curiam), is rejected. Because this Court has no authority to create equitable exceptions to jurisdictional requirements, use of the doctrine is illegitimate. Harris Truck Lines and Thompson are overruled to the extent they purport to authorize an exception to a jurisdictional rule. Pp. 8–9.

432 F. 3d 668, affirmed.

Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C.J., and Scalia, Kennedy, and Alito, JJ., joined. Souter, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined.

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