Jurisdiction And The Federal Rules: Why The Time Has Come To Reform Finality By Inequitable Deadlines

Over seventy years ago, the creation of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure represented the triumph of equity over the often-arbitrary distinctions created by the common law pleading and code pleading systems that predated them. Despite equity’s expansion beyond pleading and into most areas of litigation, there still remains an area where the rules of procedure are inflexible and complex: the current system of post-trial motions and notices of appeal often creates “trap[s] for an unsuspecting litigant” during the transfer of a case to the court of appeals from the district court. Limitations on the power of the district court to hear motions after the judgment have long been viewed as having “jurisdictional significance,” and courts view the deadlines as “mandatory and jurisdictional.” This use of the term “jurisdictional” prevents resort to equitable principles that could excuse noncompliance in certain cases where strict litigation deadlines create harsh results.

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