03.18.09

Leahy Introduces Bill To Simplify Court Deadline Calculation

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, March 18, 2009) – Responding to proposed amendments to the court deadline calculations that have been approved by the Judiciary Conference of the United States, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Wednesday introduced legislation to lengthen deadlines for court proceedings in certain federal statutes.  Leahy introduced the Statutory Time Periods Amendments Act of 2009 with Committee Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).  The Chairman and Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), are also cosponsors of the legislation.

The Judicial Conference of the United States recently approved amendments to the time-computation provisions in the Federal Rules of Practice and Procedure.  The amendments would simplify the terms for calculating federal court deadlines, making those rules consistent in each set of the Federal Rules.  However, the rules amendments can have the unintended consequence of shortening a time period.  The Statutory Time Periods Amendments Act of 2009 would slightly lengthen deadlines in certain statutes that affect court proceedings to offset the unintended effect of these rules changes.  The bill would ensure that time periods in certain federal statutes are maintained, preserve consistency between statutory deadlines and deadlines in the amended rules, and provide smooth implementation of proposed amendments to all time computation rules.  The amendments are scheduled to take effect on December 1.

 “This bipartisan legislation is time-sensitive.  Both the Department of Justice and Judicial Conference urge swift consideration of this proposal, to allow it to take effect on December 1, 2009, the same date as the amendments to the rules.  I hope Congress and the President will consider this measure early this year and improve the effectiveness of our judicial system.  We can start now by taking up and quickly passing this bill to create a consistent and standard method for lawyers and judges to calculate court deadlines.”   

The amendments approved by the Judicial Conference responds to findings that the current time-computation process is confusing and can lead to missed deadlines and litigants’ loss of important rights.  The Leahy-Specter-Whitehouse-Sessions legislation is consistent with a proposal from the Judicial Conference that received the support of the American College of Trial Lawyers, the Council of Appellate Lawyers, and the American Bar Association’s Litigation and Criminal Justice Sections. 

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Statement of Senator Leahy,

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

On the Introduction of the Statutory Time-Periods Technical Amendments Act of 2009

March18, 2009

Today, we introduce the Statutory Time-Periods Technical Amendments Act of 2009.  I thank Senator Specter, the Ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee and Senators Whitehouse and Sessions, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Administrative Oversight and Courts Subcommittee for cosponsoring.   

This legislation incorporates recommendations from the Judicial Conference of the United States to alter deadlines in certain statutes affecting court proceedings to account for recent amendments to the Federal time-computation rules.  This bipartisan bill would provide judges and practitioners with commonsense deadlines that are less confusing and less complex than current deadlines, and also ensure that existing time periods are not shortened.   

After much study and significant public comment, the Judicial Conference’s Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure and the Advisory Committees on Appellate, Bankruptcy, Civil, and Criminal Rules arrived at proposed new rules intended to provide predictability and uniformity to the current process of calculating court deadlines.  The proposed rules respond, in part, to findings from the Judicial Conference that the current time-computation process is confusing and can lead to missed deadlines and litigants’ loss of important rights.  Under the current time-calculation rules, weekends and holidays are not counted when calculating court deadlines of less than 30 days, but are counted for calculating court deadlines longer than 30 days.  The proposed new rules simplify this process by counting holidays and weekends regardless of a court deadline’s time period.  According to the Judicial Conference, these proposed changes would respond to practitioners’ complaints and criticism from judges.   

This legislation would amend a number of Federal civil and criminal statutes affecting court proceedings and harmonize them with the proposed rules.  First, this remedial bill would alter certain statutory court deadlines to counterbalance any shortening of the time period resulting from the “days are days” approach.  For example, the bill changes five days to seven days, and 10 days to 14 days, to prevent time periods from becoming shorter when a practitioner counts all days, including weekends.  This change would, in effect, maintain the same time periods in the statutes.  In addition, if a time period ends on a holiday or a weekend the time period would be extended to the next business day.  The bill would also change some statutory deadlines that would otherwise be inconsistent with the amended rules deadlines and lead to confusion. 

This bipartisan legislation is time-sensitive.  Both the Department of Justice and Judicial Conference urge swift consideration of this proposal, to allow it to take effect on December 1, 2009, the same date as the amendments to the rules.  According to a letter the Department of Justice sent to the Judicial Conference last year: “Failure to adopt statutory changes that move in concert with the proposed rule changes will result in exactly the opposite effect of what is intended – changes to the rules alone will introduce greater confusion rather than desirable simplification.”  Although the Obama administration has not formally weighed in on this legislation, I anticipate that the Justice Department will again support this proposal.  In addition, this bill mirrors the proposal from the Judicial Conference which enjoyed broad support from numerous legal and bar organizations, including of the American College of Trial Lawyers, the Council of Appellate Lawyers, and the American Bar Association’s Section of Litigation and Criminal Justice Section.  

I hope we will consider this measure expeditiously and improve the effectiveness of our judicial system.  Passing this bill will create a consistent and standard method for lawyers and judges to calculate court deadlines.   

I ask unanimous consent that the text of this bill be printed in the record. 

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For Background
THE STATUTORY TIME PERIODS AMENDMENTS ACT OF 2009

The Judicial Conference of the United States recently approved amendments to the time-computation rules in the Federal Rules of Practice and Procedure that would simplify the provisions for calculating court deadlines in Federal courts and make those rules consistent in each set of the Federal Rules.  The rules amendments approach can have the unintended consequence of shortening a time period.  In order to avoid confusion and inconsistency, the Statutory Time Periods Amendments Act of 2009 would slightly lengthen deadlines in certain statutes that affect court proceedings to offset the unintended effect of these rules changes.  The bill would:

Ensure that Time Periods in Certain Federal Statutes are Maintained

Change certain statutory deadlines to offset any shortening of the time period resulting from the rules changes that count every day, in effect maintaining the same time period in the statutes.  A large number of statutory time periods could theoretically be affected by the proposed shift in the Federal Rules’ time computation approach.  However, the number of statutory provisions to which case law has applied the Rules’ time-computing method is much smaller.  An even smaller number of statutes are either frequently used or have time periods that could helpfully be adjusted to offset the effects of the time-computation method.  The proposed legislation would merely provide short extensions of short time deadlines in this small number of statutes to offset the effective shortening caused by the new Rules approach.  The proposed statutory amendments take the same approach as was applied to the deadlines in the Rules themselves.  Five-day periods are extended to seven-day periods and ten-day periods to fourteen-day periods.

Maintain Consistency between Statutory Deadlines and Amended Rules Deadlines

C         Change some statutory deadlines that would otherwise be inconsistent with the amended rules deadlines and lead to confusion.  With respect to a few particularly short statutory time periods, the statute would state that the time period for that statute is to be calculated by extending intervening weekends and holidays.  This change is necessary to offset the effective shortening caused by the new rules approach (although the time-calculation Rules only apply to a statutory deadline if the statute does not provide its own time-calculation method).

Provides Smooth Implementation of Proposed Amendments to all Time Computation Rules

C         Ensures the Judicial Commission’s and Department of Justice’s goal that the new rules and statutory amendments become effective at the same time.  Practitioners are concerned about the computation of time periods in statutes that have not yet been amended to take account of the new time computation rules by the time the amended Federal rules become effective.  If the statutes are not amended simultaneously with the rules, that could result in inconsistency in the rules application and confusion for all parties involved in the litigation.  To avoid confusion and inconsistency, the proposed legislation ensures that the statutory changes will become effective at the same time as the rules – December 1, 2009 – which is the date for the rules amendments to take effect under the Rules Enabling Act.

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