Ignorance of the Rules Does Not Constitute Excusable Neglect

Eastman v. First Data Corp., 736 F.3d 675 (3d Cir. 2013).  Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f) permits the losing party on a motion to certify a class, whether plaintiff or defendant, to petition for review of the district court’s ruling “within 14 days after the order is entered.”  In Gutierrez v. Johnson & Johnson, 523 F.3d 187, 192 (3d Cir. 2008), the Third Circuit stated that this deadline is “strict and mandatory.”

In this case, the district court denied class certification and plaintiffs filed a Rule 23(f) petition three days beyond the 14-day deadline.  Plaintiffs contended that because Rule 6(d) adds three days “[w]hen a party may or must act within a specified time period after service and service is made under Rule 5(b)(2)(C), (D), (E), or (F),” their Rule 23(f) petition was timely.  In a per curiam opinion, the Third Circuit (Judges Smith, Hardiman, and Van Antwerpen) disagreed.  “The time to file a Rule 23(f) petition runs from entry of the order, not service of a document.”  Thus, Rule 6(d) did not apply.

Plaintiffs then argued that their late filing should be allowed based on excusable neglect, since plaintiffs mistakenly believed that Rule 6(d) would apply to give them the three extra days.  The Third Circuit rebuffed that contention.  “Counsel’s mistake or ignorance of the rules does not constitute excusable neglect and is not a reason to accept an untimely Rule 23(f) petition.”  Accordingly, the Third Circuit dismissed the appeal as untimely.

The lesson here is that everyone must read the rules carefully, in every case, and understand the filing deadlines.  Sometimes there is a lifeline for those who miss a deadline, but all too often, as here, the rules will not be relaxed.