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Attorneys

Two Key Things You Need to Know About the 2016 Federal Rule Changes

December 8 2016

By Jo Dale Carothers

On December 1, 2016, amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) and Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure (FRAP) took effect.  While at first glance, the changes may not seem dramatic, but changes such as shortening the time to respond and cutting word counts for briefs have a direct impact on our practices.  For example, this year’s changes include the following:

  1. Eliminating the 3-day rule; and
  2. Reducing word counts for certain appellate filings.

Under the previous 3-day rule, parties receiving a document by means other than personal delivery, which was considered immediate service, could add three days to the response time calculated from the date of service.  This included adding three days when served electronically, including service by email and the electronic case filing (ECF) notice system.  In other words, items served electronically were not treated as received immediately even though they often were received virtually instantaneously.  In the past, concerns related to reliability, transmission delay and incompatibility of systems led to the perception of a need for maintaining the 3-day rule for electronic service, but times have changed.  In addition, other rules have been changed in an attempt to simplify time computations by adopting periods that are multiples of 7 to allow for “day-of-the-week” counting.  The 3-day extension re-complicated the intended simplification and caused more dates to fall on weekends and holidays thus requiring further adjustments.

With advances in technology and skills of computer users and the desire to further simplify time computation, the 3-day rule has been eliminated for responses triggered by electronic service of a document.  This was accomplished by amending FRCP 6(d) and FRAP 26(c) to exclude electronic service from the modes of service that allow for three additional days to act or respond. It is important to note, however, that some courts have promulgated local rules that retain the 3-day extension.  For example, the Ninth Circuit will continue to provide three additional days for electronic service for deadlines based on service of another document.

The Committee Notes regarding the change to Rule 6 recognize that this amendment can effectively shorten the time to respond relative to current practice, particularly when documents are served late at night or just prior to, or during, a weekend or holiday.  Therefore, they noted that extensions may be warranted to prevent prejudice.  In practice, however, one cannot afford to take such extensions for granted, particularly if opposing counsel objects.

The Supreme Court ordered that the amendments to FRCP 6(d) and FRAP 26(c) govern in all federal civil and appellate cases, respectively, commenced after December 1, 2016 and “insofar as just and practicable, all proceedings then pending.”  But, it is not clear how courts will apply these amendments to pending cases.  For example, will amended Rule 6(d) apply to all papers served after December 1, 2016, even in cases pending prior to that date or will courts continue to apply the prior rule for service of papers in such cases?  Similar questions arise in the appellate context.  It will be critical to consult the specific rules applicable for each case to avoid missing deadlines!

In another amendment to the FRAP, word-count limits have been reduced for certain appellate filings and implemented in place of page limits for other filings.  For some time, parties did not have to comply with page limits for appellate briefs if they complied with certain word-count limits.  Page limits, however, were still imposed on other papers, such as motions and petitions.  In the most recent amendment to the FRAP, word-count limits have been instituted for, among other filings, motions, amicus briefs, and petitions for rehearing en banc.  Further, word counts for opening, response, and cross-appeal response and reply briefs have been reduced from 14,000 to 13,000 words.  For cross-appeal opening and response briefs, the word count was reduced from 16,500 to 15,300, and for reply briefs, the word count was reduced from 7000 to 6500.  You just thought the prior word counts were tight!  Now they are tighter.

These word-count changes took effect on December 1, 2016, but some circuits have opted out in favor of their own local rules.  For example, the Ninth Circuit has adopted a local rule that will maintain the current word count limits for briefs and will maintain the current page limits, rather than word counts, for motions and petitions.

In summary, while the new rules are now in effect, courts are varying in whether they are applying the new rules at all and, if so, how they are applying them to pending cases.  Therefore, it is more important than ever to compare the local rules with the federal rules to determine whether your cases are subject to these amendments.  If so, then be prepared to respond sooner and, in appellate cases, more concisely!