Federal Courts Adopt Sweeping New Time Computation Rules

January 9, 2010

It’s not every day that the federal courts completely change the way they compute time, but on December 1, 2009, a set of sweeping new revisions to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure became effective, doing just that.

The changes were designed to eliminate deadline calculations that had served a trap for unwary litigants and counsel for years, and had generated frequent issues on appeal caused by “excusable neglect” and other counting problems.  Under the previous system, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(a)(2) provided that in considering any time period imposed by the Federal Rules, local court rules, orders, or statutes, any period of less than 11 days was a “business day” calculation that excluded intermediate weekends and court holidays in computing the end date of the period.

In other words, under the former system, if a party’s obligation to do something was triggered on Tuesday, January 5, and the party had a period of 10 days in which to act, the party’s deadline would be 15 days later, or Wednesday, January 20.   The intervening Saturdays (January 9, 16) and Sundays (January 10, 17) would not have been included in the calculation, nor would Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday on January 18.  Counting ten days from January 5 and skipping those dates would leave a deadline of January 20.

Since many federal rules and statutes do impose deadlines of 10 days or fewer following some action, this interesting time computation scheme showed up again and again, and evidently, enough litigants, lawyers, and court personnel had enough of it.  Under a revisions package dubbed “days are days,” new Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(a)(1)(B) requires “count[ing] every day,” irrespective of the length of the time period in question.

Of course, since this would have resulted in a significant shortening of the amount of days for parties and their attorneys to prepare various filings, the new revisions also changed numerous time deadlines.  In most cases, periods of time of less than 30 days were changed to multiples of seven, so that in almost all cases, deadlines would fall on the same weekday as the triggering action.  For example, Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(a)(4)(A), requiring a party to serve a responsive pleading within a certain time after a court’s action on a Rule 12 motion challenging the complaint on various fundamental grounds, was changed from a 10-day period to a 14-day period.  Rule 12’s familiar 20-day period to answer or otherwise plead in response to a complaint is now 21 days.  Some rules got even more substantial makeovers – – Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) formerly provided for a period of 10 days following the entry of a judgment to file a “motion to alter or amend” – – colloquially, but not officially, known as a “motion for reconsideration,” but the new revisions extend that period to 28 days after the entry of judgment.

As before, the day kicking off the period in question is not counted, and if the final day of a period falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the deadline becomes the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday.

Interestingly, those district courts around the country with local rules governing time restrictions were also required to change their computations, since the Federal Rules control – – but litigants should still be wary of situations in which a local rule provides for a shorter time for taking some action than a corresponding or similar Federal Rule.  Some districts, for example, only permitted 10 days to file motions for reconsideration.  Under the old day-counting rules, that 10 days would always be at least 14 days, but practitioners should check to determine any revisions to the district’s local rules.  Most 10-day periods in local rules appear to have been changed to 14 days, but there’s no guarantee – – and of course, in some situations, the local rules may have increased the time period slightly, but not gone as far as the applicable federal rules.  In many districts in which I practice, motions for reconsideration are now due 14 days instead of 10 from the date of the entry of judgment – – and new Rule 59(e)’s 28-day period doesn’t come into play.

The new rules affected all pending actions unless manifest injustice would result from their application.  Simpler computation of deadline dates is an idea whose . . . time had probably come, but there are still plenty of timing traps out there, particularly in federal appellate practice, where filing deadlines are jurisdictional and cannot normally be extended.

Check here for an informative slideshow from the U.S. Courts’ website explaining the new rules and many of the revised deadlines.