Friday, May 27, 2016

Some leeway for pro se appellants

Pro se litigants sometimes read this blog, so if you're a pro se litigant who wants to take an appeal to the Court of Appeals, this one's for you.

The case is Elliott v. City of Hartford, decided on May 19, As the Court of Appeals notes, this is a tragic and horrible case. The witness to a murder in Hartford was herself murdered, probably to silence her. The victim's family brought a lawsuit that blamed the police for her murder. The case was dismissed on summary judgment. Along the way, the district court issued several orders, but the notice of appeal mentioned only the most recent order, dated August 22, 2014. The brief on appeal challenges prior orders as well.

While the rules governing notices of appeal have particular requirements as to what goes into the notice -- i.e., what rulings you are appealing -- notices of appeal filed by pro se litigants are viewed liberally, "and not every technical defect in a notice of appeal constitutes a jurisdictional defect." The Court of Appeals has to view the notice of appeal in light of the appellant's intent, with fairness to the appellee. So here is the rule, taken from a case decided in 1997: "in the absence of prejudice to an appellee, we read a pro se appellant’s appeal from an order closing the case as constituting an appeal from all prior orders." The holding is more technical, but it gives you a sense of how the Court of Appeals sees all of this:

The first September 30, 2013 order addressed the motion for summary judgment by the City defendants, and granted the motion in part and denied it in part, without prejudice. The second September 30, 2013 order granted the motion for summary judgment by the State defendants. The August 22, 2014 order granted the City defendants’ renewed motion for summary judgment. Because claims remained against the City defendants, Elliott was unable to appeal either of the September 30, 2013 orders until after the issuance of the August 22, 2014 order, which granted defendants summary judgment on the remaining claims and ordered the Clerk to “close this case.”

It is further evident from Elliott’s brief that she intended to appeal rulings in the September 30, 2013 orders, in addition to the August 22, 2014 order, as she challenges numerous rulings made by the district court in its September 30 orders.
 No prejudice to defendants from the technically defective notice of appeal, as they briefed all the issues that plaintiff wanted to raise and cannot therefore say they were sandbagged by the notice of appeal.

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