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No Equitable Tolling For Class Certification Appeals

Nutraceutical Corp. v. Lambert, 139 S. Ct. 710 (2019). Available at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/18pdf/17-1094_bq7d.pdf.

(June 19, 2019) Christina Araviakis, Summer Associate.

For more information, contact Eric Leppo

In 2013, Troy Lambert filed a class action against Nutraceutical Corporation in federal court. Lambert alleged that Nutraceutical’s marketing of a dietary supplement violated California consumer-protection law. The District Court for the Central District of California initially permitted Lambert to represent the class, but then ordered the class decertified on February 20, 2015.

Lambert had 14 days to appeal the order under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f). Ten days later, on March 2, 2015, Lambert notified the District Court of his intent to file a motion for reconsideration. The court told Lambert to file no later than March 12, 2015. At the time, there was no mention of an appeal. Lambert filed the motion for reconsideration on March 12, which the District Court later denied on June 24, 2015. Fourteen days later, on July 8, 2015, Lambert petitioned the Court of Appeals for permission to appeal the decertification order. The Court of Appeals held that Lambert’s petition was timely because Rule 23(f) was nonjurisdictional, and thus subject to equitable tolling. Tolling was permitted because Lambert informed the District Court of his intention to seek reconsideration within the 14 day deadline under 23(f), followed the March 12 deadline given to him by the court, and acted diligently.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari, and in a unanimous opinion, held that Rule 23(f) is not subject to equitable tolling. The Court here agrees with the lower court that 23(f) is nonjurisdictional because it is a procedural rule and not a statute, making Rule 23(f) a nonjurisdictional claim-processing rule. However, that does not result in Rule 23(f) being subject to tolling. The Court explained that whether a rule is subject to equitable tolling does not depend on its jurisdictional character, but whether the words of the rule allow for such flexibility.

The Court explained that the text of Rule 23(f) shows a clear intent to preclude tolling. The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure single out Rule 23(f) for inflexible treatment, and even state that a court “may not extend the time to file . . . a petition for permission to appeal.” Fed. R. App. Proc. 26(b)(1). This rule applies even if good cause exists to extend the deadline.

This decision affects both sides in a class action because the deadline applies to both parties. Plaintiffs have 14 days to appeal an order denying class certification, and defendants have 14 days to appeal an order granting certification. The Court has created a bright line rule for class certification appeals for plaintiffs and defendants alike: 14 days to appeal a class certification order, no exceptions.