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Plaintiff Loses FRAP 4(a)(6) Appeal in Life-Ruining Lawsuit

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 21, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The lawsuit at the root of this appeal alleged that a host of defendants -- including the former Prime Minister of Singapore, the Governor of Wisconsin, and tenants in the plaintiff's apartment building -- conspired to ruin Plaintiff Khor Chin Lim's life. Shockingly, the district court dismissed the complaint as "fantastical."

Lim had 30 days to appeal the judgment to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Since he took almost 90 days to appeal, he filed a motion to reopen the appeals period under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure (FRAP) 4(a)(6). The Seventh Circuit ruled this week that Lim doesn't qualify for relief under the rule.

FRAP 4(a)(6) states:

The district court may reopen the time to file an appeal for a period of 14 days after the date when its order to reopen is entered, but only if all 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.

Lim was out of the country between November 17, 2011, and January 27, 2012, during which time his opportunity for appeal lapsed; he didn't know that his lawsuit had been dismissed until he returned home and found the judgment waiting in his mail.

Lim didn't offer any reason to doubt that the notice of judgment arrived within 21 days of the judgment's entry. Instead, he argued that a document is not "received" until the envelope is opened and the contents read.

Unfortunately, the Seventh Circuit disagreed with that proposition.

Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook, writing for the court, concluded that delivery to the address on file is the normal meaning of receipt in law. The Seventh Circuit indicated that it was unaware of an authority which holds that a litigant may defer "receipt" of a document by failing to open the envelope containing it. Quite the contrary, the Seventh Circuit rejected that contention in 2009.

Here, Judge Easterbrook noted that Lim had options that would have preserved his opportunity to appeal. He could have arranged for his mail to be forwarded, furnished the district court with a forwarding address or the name of an agent to receive his mail, or checked PACER, (the district court's electronic docket). Instead, he just failed to act.

The time to appeal is limited by statute, and the limit is jurisdictional. The judiciary is not entitled to add time just because a litigant fails to open or read his mail -- or for any other extra-statutory reason.

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