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United States v. Carelock

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT


August 18, 2006

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
OLANDA L. CARELOCK, APPELLANT

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. Crim. No. 95-00415-1). District Judge: The Honorable Dennis M. Cavanaugh.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Aldisert, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued July 10, 2006

Before: SMITH, ALDISERT and ROTH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Olanda Carelock appeals the sentence that he received following the revocation of his supervised release. He argues that the sentence-14 months' imprisonment and 36 months' supervised release (which was reduced to 22 months on account of the 14-month period of incarceration)-is unreasonable.*fn1

Because Carelock failed to file a timely notice of appeal that complied with the requirements of Rule 3(c) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure or was the functional equivalent of what the rule requires, we will dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.*fn2

I.

In light of our jurisdictional concerns surrounding Carelock's notice of appeal, we need not discuss the facts underlying the District Court's revocation of his term of supervised release and instead will focus on those events that followed the filing of the District Court's judgment on April 25, 2005. Four days after that date, on April 29, 2005, Carelock's counsel electronically filed a notice of appeal with the District Court. Regrettably, although the notice was filed in Carelock's case in the District Court's electronic filing system, it had the wrong defendant's name, the wrong docket number, the wrong district court judge's name, and the wrong judgment date. The notice instead bore the name and case information of Omar Tecat, a criminal defendant also represented by Carelock's counsel. The District Court clerk's office acknowledged receipt of the notice on April 29, 2005, but also issued a quality control message noting these errors.*fn3 App. at 2. Carelock's counsel was advised by the District Court clerk's office that the defective notice of appeal pertained to Omar Tecat and not Olanda Carelock.*fn4 App. at 7. The clerk later noted on the docket sheet that Carelock's case was not even subject to e-filing in the District Court at this time.*fn5 App. at 2.

At oral argument, Carelock's counsel explained that he had drafted a proper notice for Carelock, but accidentally electronically filed the notice of appeal for Omar Tecat instead. When the District Court notified him of a possible error, however, Carelock's counsel acknowledged that he took no immediate action that corrected the problem. He stated that upon receiving notification of an error from the Court, he reviewed a printout copy of the notice of appeal (the one that bore Carelock's name and information) and concluded that there was nothing wrong. At this time, Carelock's counsel neglected to review the document that he had actually electronically filed with the District Court.

On July 25, 2005, the case was docketed in this Court. That day, the clerk's office of this Court sent a letter to the parties notifying them of the possible jurisdictional defect in this appeal owing from the incorrect notice of appeal. On August 4, 2005, we received a response from Carelock's counsel explaining the mistake and arguing that the mere act of electronically filing the defective notice in Carelock's file should have served as the functional equivalent of a notice of appeal. Aug. 4, 2005 letter to the clerk of this Court (citing In re Continental Airlines, 125 F.3d 120, 129 (3d Cir. 1997)). That same day, we received a corrected notice of appeal that bore Olanda Carelock's name and case information. It bears comment that this attempt to explain and correct the April 29, 2005 notice took place a little over 90 days after the mistake actually had been made and counsel had been alerted that there was a problem with the electronic filing.

On August 8, 2005, we received the government's response, wherein it argued that Carelock's April 29 notice of appeal does not comply with the content requirements of Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. Because of this defect, it contends that we lack jurisdiction to hear this appeal because Carelock failed to file a proper notice of appeal of Carelock's case within the ten-day window of Rule 4(b)(1)(A) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.

II.

"An appeal permitted by law as of right from a district court to a court of appeals may be taken only by filing a notice of appeal with the district clerk within the time allowed by Rule 4." Rule 3(a)(1), Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. "Rule 3 and Rule 4 combine to require that a notice of appeal be filed with the clerk of the district court within the time prescribed for taking an appeal [and, because] the timely filing of a notice of appeal is 'mandatory and jurisdictional,' [] compliance with the provisions of those rules is of the utmost importance." Rule 3, Advisory Committee Note, Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure (internal citations omitted) (cited with approval in Torres v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 487 U.S. 312, 315 (1988)); Poole v. Fam. Ct. of New Castle County, 368 F.3d 263, 264 (3d Cir. 2004) ("The timeliness of an appeal is a mandatory jurisdictional prerequisite.").*fn6 Per Rule 4, a notice of appeal "must be filed in the district court within 10 days after the later of: (i) the entry of either the judgment or the order being appealed; or (ii) the filing of the government's notice of appeal." Rule 4(b)(1)(A), Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. Here, the judgment was entered on April 25, 2005, so Carelock had ten days from that date in which to file his notice of appeal. The only document received within that time-window was the notice of appeal bearing Omar Tecat's name that was filed on April 29, 2005. The corrected notice of appeal, which we received on August 4, 2005, did not satisfy Rule 4's time requirements.*fn7

We must then examine the April 29 notice of appeal to see whether it may properly serve as Carelock's notice of appeal for purposes of Rule 4's timing requirements. To qualify as a notice of appeal, the filing must meet the requirements of Rule 3(c)(1), which states that a notice of appeal must:

(A) specify the party or parties taking the appeal by naming each one in the caption or body of the notice . . .;

(B) designate the judgment, order, or part thereof being appealed; and

(C) name the court to which the appeal is taken.

Unfortunately for Carelock, the April 29 notice, which bears Omar Tecat's name and case information, meets only one of these three requirements-the notice correctly names the court to which the appeal would be taken.

III.

"[T]he purpose of [Rule 3(c)] is to ensure that the filing provides sufficient notice to other parties and the courts." Smith v. Barry, 502 U.S. 244, 248 (1992). Because, however, "[d]ismissal of an appeal for failure to comply with procedural rules is not favored," Horner Equip. Intern., Inc. v. Seascape Pool Ctr., Inc., 884 F.2d 89, 93 (3d Cir. 1989), we take note of the leeway we possess in assessing compliance with Rule 3(c). The Supreme Court has stated that courts should "liberally construe the requirements of Rule 3." Smith, 502 U.S. at 248 (citations omitted). Under this mandate, "if a litigant files papers in a fashion that is technically at variance with the letter of a procedural rule, a court may nonetheless find that the litigant has complied with the rule if the litigant's action is the functional equivalent of what the rule requires." Torres, 487 U.S. at 316-317. That is to say, "[i]f the document meets [the requirements of Rule 3(c),] it does not matter that the appellant intended it to serve some other function." Moore's Federal Practice § 303.21[2] (Mathew Bender 3d ed.). "This principle of liberal construction does not, however, excuse noncompliance with the rule. . . . Although courts should construe Rule 3 liberally when determining whether it has been complied with, noncompliance is fatal to an appeal." Smith, 502 U.S. at 248.

Here, it is undisputed that the April 29 notice of appeal does not strictly comply with the requirements of Rule 3(c). Acknowledging this deficiency, Carelock argues that his mere act of electronically filing a notice appeal in his case is the functional equivalent of what Rule 3(c) requires. For support he relies upon In re Continental Airlines, wherein we stated:

[I]n the context of Rule 3(c), jurisdiction may be appropriate if a litigant's actions are functionally equivalent to the requirements of Rule 3(c). Masquerade Novelty v. Unique Industries, 912 F.2d 663, 665 (3d Cir. 1990). We have applied this construction numerous times to support a finding of jurisdiction in the absence of strict, technical compliance with the requirements of Rule 3(c). See id. (where the contents of documents filed within the time prescribed to file a notice of appeal contain the information required by Rule 3(c), the party will be deemed to have complied with the rule and the case will not be dismissed for lack of appellate jurisdiction); [Dura Sys., Inc. v. Rothbury Invs., Ltd., 886 F.2d 551, 554-555 (3d Cir. 1989)] (Consent Order filed by the appellants within the time prescribed to file a notice of appeal served as the "functional equivalent" of what Rule 3(c) required such that the technical failure of the actual notice of appeal was not a bar to jurisdiction); see also In re Bertoli, 812 F.2d 136 (3d Cir. 1987) (litigant's filing of a "Notice of Motion for Certification of An Interlocutory Appeal" in the district court within the thirty-day time period allowed to file a notice of appeal was sufficient to satisfy Rule 3(c) where the litigant failed to file an actual notice of appeal; the document communicated an intention to appeal and identified the judgment appealed from and the court to which the appeal was taken).

125 F.3d at 129. Carelock stresses that because the notice of appeal was at least filed in his case (and not Omar Tecat's), and because electronic filing is a new system, his mere act of filing a notice should be considered the functional equivalent of what Rule 3(c) requires.

We disagree. The mere act of electronically filing the defective notice of appeal, the contents of which only comply with one of Rule 3(c)(1)'s three requirements, does not constitute a functional equivalent of what the rule requires. We are conscious of our duty to liberally construe the requirements of Rule 3(c), but we cannot shoehorn this defective notice into the category of things that we have held to be functional equivalents. All the cases cited by this Court in Continental Airlines as examples of functional equivalents deal with the filing of documents that, although not captioned as notices of appeal, at least contained the required information of Rule 3(c)(1) and provided notice to the appropriate parties that the defendants intended to appeal the relevant judgments of the district courts.*fn8 Carelock's request that we consider the mere act of electronically filing the defective notice of appeal to be the functional equivalent of what Rule 3(c) requires borders upon asking us to consider his subjective intent in filing the defective notice. This, however, is not the relevant test. It is "the notice afforded by a document, not the litigant's motivation in filing it [that] determines the document's sufficiency as a notice of appeal." Smith, 502 U.S. at 248.

Simply put, "notice" is "knowledge of the existence of a fact," see Blacks Law Dictionary 957 (5th ed. 1979), and here there is no evidence that either the government or District Court was or should reasonably have been put on notice by the April 29 notice that Carelock intended to appeal his sentence.*fn9 Rather, the April 29 notice compels the conclusion that Omar Tecat (the individual actually named on the notice) and not Carelock intended to take an appeal, and that the notice had been mistakenly filed in Carelock's case. Accordingly, we must dismiss Carelock's appeal for failure to file an effective notice of appeal within the time requirements of Rule 4(b)(1)(A) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.

IV.

"To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer." Farmers' Almanac (1978). In parting, we note that the cause of this error was that Carelock's counsel had unfortunately failed to double-check the document he had electronically transmitted to the District Court. Although the modern use of the computer is a great time-saver, its ease of use should not assuage the almost obsessive attentiveness that is required when filing any document with a court. Otherwise, a scenario such as Carelock's may occur, which proves the adage that "a computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history-with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila." Mitch Ratcliffe (quoted in Herb Brody, The Pleasure Machine: Computers, Technology Review, Apr. 1992, at 31).

We will dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.


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