Bowles v. Russell

RESPONDENT:Harry Russell, Warden
LOCATION:United States District Court for the District of Colorado

DOCKET NO.: 06-5306
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 551 US 205 (2007)
GRANTED: Dec 07, 2006
ARGUED: Mar 26, 2007
DECIDED: Jun 14, 2007

Malcolm L. Stewart –
Paul Mancino Jr. – on behalf of Petitioner
William P. Marshall – on behalf of Respondent

Facts of the case

Keith Bowles was convicted of murder. He filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal District Court, and was denied. Bowles did not receive timely notice of the District Court’s ruling, so he missed the deadline for appeal. He filed a motion under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(6) to reopen the appeal period. The District Court granted Bowles’s motion, and gave him until February 27, 2004 to file his appeal. However, Rule 4(a)(6) allows only a 14-day extension of the appeal period, which would put the deadline on February 24, 2004. Bowles filed his appeal on February 26 – on time according to the court’s deadline, but untimely according to Rule 4(a)(6).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit at first declined to dismiss Bowles’s appeal. Later, on its own motion, the Sixth Circuit “correct[ed] [its] error” and dismissed the appeal, saying Rule 4(a)(6) “is not susceptible to extension through mistake, courtesy, or grace.”


May a federal Court of Appeals, acting on its own, dismiss an appeal as too late under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(6) when the appeal is filed after the 14-day extension specified in the Rule but before the deadline established by the District Court?

Media for Bowles v. Russell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 26, 2007 in Bowles v. Russell

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 14, 2007 in Bowles v. Russell

Clarence Thomas:

The second case I have to announce is Bowles v. Russell, number 06-5306.

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

In 1999, an Ohio Jury convicted petitioner Keith Bowles of murder.

Bowles ultimately filed a Federal Habeas Corpus application which the District Court denied.

Bowles failed however to timely follow the notice of appeal from that denial.

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(6), Bowles moved to District Court to reopen, the period during which he could file his notice of appeal.

Rule 4(a)(6) which derives from 28 U.S.C. Section 2107, allows District Court’s to extend the filing period for 14 days from the day the District Court enters an order to reopen.

The District Court granted Bowles’ motion but rather than extending the time period by 14 days as rule 4(a)(6) allows, the District Court inexplicably gave Bowles 17 days.

Bowles filed his notice of appeal 16 days later within the 17 days allowed by the District Court’s order but after the 14 day period permitted by rule 4(a)(6), the Court of Appeals held that it lacked jurisdiction to hear Bowles’ appeal.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

We hold that where the time limit for filing in notice of appeals is set forth in a statute, the failure to timely file such a notice deprives the Appellate Court of Jurisdiction to hear them that.

This Court has long held that the taking of an appeal within the prescribed time is mandatory and jurisdictional.

Although, our recent decisions have undertaken to clarify the distinction between claims-processing rules and jurisdictional rules, none of them calls into question our longstanding treatment of statutory limits for taking an appeal as jurisdictional.

Indeed, our recent decisions have specifically recognized the jurisdictional significance of the fact that a time limit is set forth in a statute.

Our resolution of this case follows from this understanding of the statutory time limits for filing appeals.

Like the initial 30-day period for filing a notice of appeal, the limit on how long a District Court may reopen that period is set forth in a statute.

It is therefore jurisdictional and Bowles failure to file his appeal in a timely fashion deprived the Court of Appeals jurisdiction.

Because of his failure to timely file his appeal is based at least in prior on the District Court’s erroneous order, Bowles contempt’s that we should excuse his untimely filing pursuant to the unique circumstances doctrine which was first set forth in Harris Truck Lines v. Cherry Meat Packers, but as we have held today Bowles’ error was of jurisdictional significance and this Court has no authority to create equitable exceptions to jurisdictional requirements.

Accordingly, we reject Bowles’ reliance on the “unusual circumstances” doctrine and we overrule Harris Truck Lines to the extent they purport to authorize an exception to a jurisdictional rule.

Justice Souter has filed a dissenting opinion which Justices Stevens, Ginsburg and Breyer have joined.