Pro se prisoners can file notices of appeal to the federal courts of appeals only by delivering them to prison authorities for forwarding to the appropriate district court. The question we decide in this case is whether under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(1) such notices are to be considered filed at the moment of delivery to prison authorities for forwarding or at some later point in time.
Incarcerated in a Tennessee prison, petitioner Prentiss Houston filed a pro se petition under 28 U. S. C. § 2254 for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court in Tennessee. That court declined to appoint counsel and entered judgment dismissing the habeas petition on January 7, 1986. Still acting pro se, petitioner drafted a notice of appeal and, on February 3, 1986 (27 days after the judgment), deposited it with the prison authorities for mailing to the District Court. This date of deposit was recorded in the prison log of outgoing mail. Petitioner also states without contradiction that he requested the prison to certify his notice for proof that it had been deposited for mailing on that date and requested that the notice be sent air mail, but that the prison refused these requests because he lacked funds to pay the fees the prison charged for such services. The record does not contain the envelope in which the notice of appeal was mailed, and therefore does not contain the postmark or any other evidence of when the prison authorities actually mailed the letter. The prison log, however, suggests that in addressing the notice the petitioner may have mistakenly used the post office box number of the Tennessee Supreme Court rather than that of the Federal District Court (both of which are in Jackson, Tennessee, approximately 81 miles from the prison). Although there is no direct evidence of the date on which the District Court received the notice, the notice was stamped
Neither the District Court nor respondent suggested that the notice of appeal might be untimely. Rather, the District Court issued a certificate of probable cause on February 18, 1986, noting that the appeal presented a "question of first impression" in the jurisdiction. App. 22. On March 5, 1986, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit circulated a briefing schedule to the parties. On March 21, 1986, however, 13 days after the time had expired to request an extension of the time for filing a notice of appeal under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(5), the Court of Appeals discovered the time problem concerning the filing of petitioner's notice of appeal and alerted the parties by entering an order requiring petitioner to show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed for want of jurisdiction. Eventually the Court of Appeals appointed counsel to argue the time question for petitioner. On May 22, 1987, the court entered an order dismissing the appeal as jurisdictionally out of time. We granted certiorari, 484 U.S. 1025 (1988), and now reverse.
We last addressed questions concerning the timely filing of notices of appeals by pro se prisoners in Fallen v. United States, 378 U.S. 139 (1964). Fallen involved what was then Rule 37(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (the substance of which now appears in Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(b)), under which a criminal defendant seeking to appeal had to file a notice of appeal with the clerk of the district court within 10 days after entry of the judgment being
We conclude that the analysis of the concurring opinion in Fallen applies here and that petitioner thus filed his notice within the requisite 30-day period when, three days before the deadline, he delivered the notice to prison authorities for forwarding to the District Court. The situation of prisoners seeking to appeal without the aid of counsel is unique. Such prisoners cannot take the steps other litigants can take to monitor the processing of their notices of appeal and to ensure
Respondent stresses that a petition for habeas corpus is a civil action, see Browder v. Director, Dept. of Corrections of Illinois, 434 U.S. 257, 265, n. 9, 269 (1978), and that the timing of the appeal here is thus, unlike the direct criminal appeal at issue in Fallen, subject to the statutory deadline set out in 28 U. S. C. § 2107. But, as relevant here, § 2107 merely provides:
The statute thus does not define when a notice of appeal has been "filed" or designate the person with whom it must be filed, and nothing in the statute suggests that, in the unique circumstances of a pro se prisoner, it would be inappropriate to conclude that a notice of appeal is "filed" within the meaning of § 2107 at the moment it is delivered to prison officials for forwarding to the clerk of the district court.
Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure 3(a) and 4(a)(1) are a little more specific. Rule 3(a) provides: "An appeal permitted by law as of right from a district court to a court of appeals shall be taken by filing a notice of appeal with the clerk of the district court within the time allowed by Rule 4." Rule 4(a)(1) provides:
Rules 3(a) and 4(a)(1) thus specify that the notice should be filed "with the clerk of the district court." There is, however, no dispute here that the notice must be directed to the
Respondent concedes that receipt of a notice of appeal by the clerk of the district court suffices to meet the "filing" requirement under Rules 3 and 4 even though the notice has not yet been formally "filed" by the clerk of the court. Parissi v. Telechron, Inc., 349 U.S. 46, 47 (1955); see also, e. g., Deloney v. Estelle, 661 F.2d 1061, 1062-1063 (CA5 1981); Aldabe v. Aldabe, 616 F.2d 1089, 1091 (CA9 1980); United States v. Solly, 545 F.2d 874, 876 (CA3 1976). But the rationale for concluding that receipt constitutes filing in the ordinary civil case is that the appellant has no control over delays between the court clerk's receipt and formal filing of the notice. See, e. g., Deloney, supra, at 1063; Aldabe, supra, at 1091; Solly, supra, at 876. This rationale suggests a far different conclusion here, since, as we discussed above, the lack of control of pro se prisoners over delays extends much further than that of the typical civil litigant: pro se prisoners have no control over delays between
True, a large body of lower court authority has rejected the general argument that a notice of appeal is "filed" at the moment it is placed in the mail addressed to the clerk of the court — this on the ground that receipt by the district court is required.
Second, the policy grounds for the general rule making receipt the moment of filing suggest that delivery to prison authorities should instead be the moment of filing in this particular context. As detailed above, the moment at which pro se prisoners necessarily lose control over and contact with their notices of appeal is at delivery to prison authorities, not receipt by the clerk. Thus, whereas the general rule has been justified on the ground that a civil litigant who chooses to mail a notice of appeal assumes the risk of untimely delivery and filing, see, e. g., Bad Bubba, supra, at 816, a pro se prisoner has no choice but to hand his notice over to prison authorities for forwarding to the court clerk. Further, the rejection of the mailbox rule in other contexts has been based in part on concerns that it would increase disputes and uncertainty over when a filing occurred and that it would put all the evidence about the date of filing in the hands of one party. See, e. g., United States v. Lombardo, 241 U.S. 73, 78 (1916). These administrative concerns lead to the opposite conclusion here. The pro se prisoner does not anonymously drop his notice of appeal in a public mailbox — he hands it over to prison authorities who have well-developed procedures for recording the date and time at which they receive papers for mailing and who can readily dispute a prisoner's assertions that he delivered the paper on a different date. Because reference to prison mail logs will generally be a straightforward inquiry, making filing turn on the date the pro se prisoner delivers the notice to prison authorities for mailing is a bright-line rule, not an uncertain one. Relying on the date of receipt, by contrast, raises such difficult to resolve questions as whether delays by the United States Postal Service constituted excusable neglect and whether a notice stamped "filed" on one date was actually received earlier.
We thus conclude that the Court of Appeals had jurisdiction over petitioner's appeal because the notice of appeal was filed at the time petitioner delivered it to the prison authorities for forwarding to the court clerk.
Today's decision obliterates the line between textual construction and textual enactment. It would be within the realm of normal judicial creativity (though in my view wrong) to interpret the phrase "filed with the clerk" to mean "mailed to the clerk," or even "mailed to the clerk or given to a person bearing an obligation to mail to the clerk." But interpreting it to mean "delivered to the clerk or, if you are a prisoner, delivered to your warden" is no more acceptable than any of an infinite number of variants, such as: "delivered to the clerk or, if you are out of the country, delivered to a United States consul"; or "delivered to the clerk or, if you are a soldier on active duty in a war zone, delivered to your commanding officer"; or "delivered to the clerk or, if you are held hostage in a foreign country, meant to be delivered to the clerk." Like these other examples, the Court's rule makes a good deal of sense. I dissent only because it is not the rule that we have promulgated through congressionally prescribed procedures.
This case requires us to construe one statutory provision and two provisions of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. The former is 28 U. S. C. § 2107, which sets a statutory, jurisdictional deadline for the filing of notices of appeal in civil actions such as this habeas proceeding. It provides:
This is supplemented by Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(1), which provides:
It is clear, then, that there was a notice of appeal effective to give the Court of Appeals jurisdiction in this case if, and only if, it was "filed with the clerk of the district court" within the 30-day period.
The Court observes that "filed with the clerk" could mean many different things, including merely "mailed to the clerk." Ante, at 272-274. That is unquestionable. But it is the practice in construing such a phrase to pick a single meaning, and not to impart first one, and then another, as the judicially perceived equities of individual cases might require. Some statutory terms, such as "restraint of trade," Business Electronics Corp. v. Sharp Electronics Corp., 485 U.S. 717, 731-733 (1988), invite judicial judgment from case to case; but a provision establishing a deadline upon which litigants are supposed to rely is not of that sort. That is why we adopted the proviso in Rule 28.2 of our own Rules, which the Court unexpectedly invokes in support of its position. Rule 28.2 reads:
Since "received by the Clerk" must, in the context of such a rule, reasonably be understood to have a unitary meaning, which would of course normally be actual receipt, we felt constrained to specify an exception in which mailing would suffice. It would have been as inappropriate (though no less possible) there as in the present case to create the exception through interpretation — reasoning that the Post Office can be deemed the agent of the addressee, Household Fire & Carriage Accident Ins. Co. v. Grant, 4 Ex. D. 216 (1879) ("[P]ost office [is] the agent of both parties"), and hence it is theoretically possible to consider the document "received by" the Clerk when it is mailed, and the policy considerations usually militating in favor of a rule of actual receipt are well enough satisfied by an affidavit from a member of our Bar, etc.
If the need for a uniform meaning is apparent even with respect to ordinary statutory deadlines, and indeed even with respect to court-created rules that can be amended at the judges' discretion, it is even more apparent when a statutory deadline bearing upon the very jurisdiction of the courts is at issue. In that context, allowing courts to give different meanings from case to case allows them to expand and contract the scope of their own competence. That this is not envisioned is plain (if any citation is needed) from Rule 26(b) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, which specifically
The Court seeks to have it both ways, at one and the same time abandoning a unitary interpretation of "filed" for purposes of the present decision, yet purporting "not [to] disturb" the many cases stating that a notice of appeal is filed when received, "[t]o the extent these cases state the general rule." Ante, at 274. See, e. g., Parissi v. Telechron, Inc., 349 U.S. 46, 47 (1955) (holding that timely receipt satisfies 28 U. S. C. § 2107); United States v. Lombardo, 241 U.S. 73, 76 (1916) ("A paper is filed when it is delivered to the proper official and by him received and filed"); Haney v. Mizell Memorial Hospital, 744 F.2d 1467, 1472 (CA11 1984); In re LBL Sports Center, Inc., 684 F.2d 410, 413 (CA6 1982); In re Robinson, 640 F.2d 737, 738 (CA5 1981); In re Ramsey, 612 F.2d 1220, 1223 (CA9 1980); In re Bad Bubba Racing Products, Inc., 609 F.2d 815, 816 (CA5 1980); Ward v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., 265 F.2d 75, 80 (CA5 1959), rev'd on other grounds, 362 U.S. 396 (1960); Allen v. Schnuckle, 253 F.2d 195, 197 (CA9 1958). It seems to me that to leave them undisturbed only "to the extent [they] state the general rule" is to disturb them profoundly. The rationale of today's decision is that any of various theoretically possible meanings
Petitioner Prentiss Houston's notice of appeal in this case was stamped received 31 days after the District Court's judgment was entered — that is, one day after the expiration of the 30-day filing period set out in Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(1). Since there is no legal warrant for creating a special exception to the rule of receipt for the benefit of incarcerated pro se appellants, I cannot join the Court in reversing the judgment on that basis.
Petitioner advanced several additional arguments supporting reversal which the Court did not have to reach. Ante, at 276-277, n. 4. I must consider them, and, having done so, find that none of them has merit.
First, petitioner asserts that his untimeliness in filing his notice of appeal should be excused because he "did all he could under the circumstances," as required by Fallen v. United States, 378 U.S. 139, 144 (1964). This argument fails because there is no warrant for equitable tolling of filing deadlines in the civil context of this habeas proceeding as there was in the criminal context that was at issue in Fallen. The bar erected by § 2107 in civil cases is jurisdictional, and this Court is without power to waive it, no matter what the equities of a particular case. As noted above, this is made explicit in Rule 26(b) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. In Fallen, by contrast, there was no jurisdictional statute at issue, and the relevant Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 2 provided that a "just determination" should be achieved. See 378 U. S., at 142.
Finally, petitioner asserts that his notice of appeal should be treated as a motion for extension of time under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(5). That Rule, however, was specifically amended to require that a motion must be filed with the district court to obtain an extension, and its text precludes treating a late filed notice as being a motion. As revised, the Rule explicitly states:
The Advisory Committee's Notes on Appellate Rule 4(a)(5) explain:
The courts below were therefore without power to treat petitioner's late filed notice of appeal as a motion for extension of time under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(5).
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Twenty-four years ago Justice Clark, joined by Justices Harlan, Stewart, and WHITE, said in the dissent in Thompson:
For the reasons stated, I respectfully dissent.
"(1) Notice of Appeal. An appeal permitted by law from a district court to a court of appeals is taken by filing with the clerk of the district court a notice of appeal in duplicate. . . .
"(2) Time for Taking Appeal. An appeal by a defendant may be taken within 10 days after entry of the judgment or order appealed from. . . ."