LOCATION: Attorney General's Office of MA
DOCKET NO.: 00-6374
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
CITATION: 532 US 757 (2001)
ARGUED: Apr 16, 2001
DECIDED: May 29, 2001
Jeffrey S. Sutton - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Stewart A. Baker - Was invited to brief and argue as amicus curiae in support of judgment below
Facts of the case
Dale G. Becker, an Ohio prisoner, instituted a pro se civil rights action to contest the conditions of his confinement. Ultimately, the District Court dismissed Becker's complaint. In appealing, Becker, still pro se, filed his notice of appeal using a government-printed form, on which he filled in all of the required information. On the line labeled "Counsel for Appellant" Becker typed, but did not sign, his name. The form contained no indication of a signature requirement. The District Court docketed the notice, sent a copy to the Court of Appeals, and granted Becker leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals, after notifying Becker that the court would not hold him to the same standards it required of attorneys in stating his case, dismissed the appeal on its own motion. The court held that the notice of appeal was fatally defective because it was not signed.
When a party files a timely notice of appeal in district court, does the failure to sign the notice of appeal require the court of appeals to dismiss the appeal?
Media for Becker v. MontgomeryAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 16, 2001 in Becker v. Montgomery
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 29, 2001 in Becker v. Montgomery
The opinions of the Court in two cases will be announced by Justice Ginsburg.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
The first case is Becker against Montgomery, the No. 00-6374.
In the Federal Court system an appeal from a District Court, the Trial Court to a Court of Appeals starts with the filing of a notice of appeal in the District Court.
If such a notice is timely filed, but is not signed, maybe appeal thereafter be perfected.
That is the question this case presents.
We hold that for want of a signature on a timely notice the Appeal is not lost.
Petitioner Dale G. Becker an Ohio prisoner instituted a pro se Civil Rights Action in the Federal District Court contesting conditions of his confinement.
Becker’s complaint was dismissed for failure to state of claim on which relief could be prohibited and Becker sought to appeal.
Using a government printed form, Becker timely filed a notice of appeal that contained all of the requested information.
On the line tagged counsel for appellant Becker, who had no counsel typed but did not hand signed his own name.
The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit docketed Becker’s appeal and set a briefing scheduled.
Becker filed his brief more than two weeks in advance of the deadline.
He hand signed both the cover and the last page.
Some six months later on its own motion the Court of Appeals dismissed Becker’s appeal for want of a handwritten signature on his appeal notice.
Becker asked for reconsideration, and attached to his request a new signed notice of appeal.
The Court of Appeals denied the request.
In that court’s view, the absence of the signature on the original notice was jurisdictional, and therefore, incurable outside the time allowed to file the notice.
We granted review and now reverse the Sixth Circuit’s judgment dismissing Becker’s appeal.
The governing federal rules direct that the notice of appeal like other papers filed in District Court shall be signed by counsel or if a party is unrepresented, by the party himself.
But the very same rule that requires appeal notices to be signed, instructs that any signature omission maybe corrected promptly after being called to the attention of the attorney or party.
Becker provided just what the rule directs.
His original appeal notice was timely filed and adequate in other respects.
By promptly correcting the signature omission, Becker secured his right to a decision on the merits of his appeal.
Our opinion is unanimous.