29 Nov 23

Meeting the Strict Federal Appeals Deadlines

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Last Updated on: 15th December 2023, 01:40 pm

Meeting the Strict Federal Appeals Deadlines

Filing an appeal in federal court can be complicated, with strict deadlines that are easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re doing. This article will walk through the key things to know about federal appeals deadlines and how to make sure you hit them.

Why Deadlines Matter

There’s a good reason federal appeals courts are sticklers about deadlines – they want to keep cases moving through the system. If they allowed late filings whenever someone asked, appeals could drag on forever. So you have to know the rules and follow them.

Calculating the Deadline

The first deadline that matters is the one for filing a notice of appeal. This is usually 30 days after the district court entered its final judgment in your case. Pay attention to the word “entered” here – it’s not when the court issued its decision, but when the clerk entered it on the docket. This date will be on the first page of the order.

You also can’t just count 30 calendar days from the order date. Federal rules say you exclude weekends and holidays when computing deadlines under 30 days. There are tables listing the exact deadlines online, but also be careful – some circuits have local holidays too.

Asking for an Extension

What if you need more than 30 days to file the notice of appeal? You can ask the district court for an extension, but don’t wait until the last minute. File the extension motion before the 30 days is up, explaining why you need more time. Extensions are usually only granted for good cause, like health problems or not getting notice of the ruling right away.

The Notice of Appeal

Once you file the notice of appeal, the clock starts ticking on the next deadline – ordering transcripts of any hearings or trials in the district court. You’ll need these for your appeal, and federal rules give you 14 days to order them.

The notice of appeal is also when you have to pay the filing fee, though you can request a waiver if you can’t afford it. The fees vary by circuit, but run $500-$550 typically.

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Filing the Record

After transcripts are ordered, the district clerk has 40 days to compile and file the record from your case with the appeals court. This will include all documents and transcripts. You can ask for items to be omitted or added if needed.

The Appellant’s Brief

Once the record arrives, appellants have 40 days to file their opening brief explaining the issues in the appeal. This is your chance to argue why the district court was wrong and should be overturned. The brief has to follow strict formatting rules on length, fonts, spacing, etc., so review them closely.

If you need more than 40 days, you can try asking the appeals court for an extension before the deadline. But these are harder to get than in district court, so have a very good reason. The appeals court won’t be as familiar with your case history yet.

The Appellee’s Brief

After you file your opening brief, the appellee (the opposing side) gets 30 days to file their response brief – arguing why the lower court ruling should stand. They also have to follow strict formatting rules.

Your Reply

Appellants then get 14 days to file a reply brief responding to the appellee’s arguments. This is your last chance before oral arguments to counter their claims and make your case for reversal.

Brief deadlines are strict because the judges need time to study them before oral arguments. Judges will be very prepared – so you need to be too. Late briefs won’t give them enough prep time and will irritate them.

Oral Arguments

Once all the briefs are filed, most appeals will involve oral arguments before a panel of three appeals judges. This gives each side 15-20 minutes typically to make their best pitch. Use your limited time wisely to stress your strongest points.

Going to arguments unprepared is a rookie mistake. The judges will pepper you with tough questions – if you don’t know the record cold, it will show. So put in the prep work beforehand.

The Decision

There’s no firm deadline for the appeals court to rule after arguments, but they tend to act fairly quickly – often within two to three months. Some cases can take longer if they involve complex issues or need to be kicked up to the full appeals court rather than just a three-judge panel.

Once the appeals court enters its judgment, that starts a new 14-day countdown for any requests for rehearing or reconsideration. These are rarely granted though, so most appeals end here – over a year after they started.

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Federal appeals may seem full of tricky deadlines, but understanding the key ones is half the battle:

  • Notice of Appeal – 30 days from district court order
  • Order Transcripts – 14 days after notice filed
  • File Record – 40 days after transcripts ordered
  • Opening Brief – 40 days after record filed
  • Response Brief – 30 days after opening brief
  • Reply Brief – 14 days after response brief

Mark your calendar, ask for extensions if you really need them, and double check rules in your federal circuit. With attention to detail, you can meet the deadlines!