Age Bias Suit Against Fannie Mae Can Proceed, SCOTUS Rules

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By Bernie Pazanowski, Patrick Gregory, and Melissa Heelan Stanzione

A woman’s age discrimination suit against her former employers, including Fannie Mae, can proceed after the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Nov. 8 that an appeals court misapplied a procedural rule when it dismissed her case.

A filing deadline that must be met for a court to have jurisdiction over an appeal is mandatory only if it’s prescribed by law, the court said in an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ( Hamer v. Neighborhood Hous. Servs. of Chicago , U.S., No. 16-658, 11/8/17 ).

Because the 30-day time limit for filing a notice of appeal in Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(5)(C) is a court-made rule, it isn’t jurisdictional, the court said.

The opinion is “important because it establishes a firm rule for determining when a restriction is jurisdictional,” Scott Dodson, Associate Dean for Research, and James Edgar Hervey Chair in Litigation at U.C. Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco, who submitted an amicus brief in the case supporting neither party, told Bloomberg Law.

The opinion makes clear that if “the restriction is in a judge-made rule, rather than a statute or in the Constitution, then it must be nonjurisdictional. Only Congress (and the Constitution) can limit the subject-matter jurisdiction of the lower courts,” Dodson said.

Before this opinion, it was unclear whether rules of court could also be jurisdictional, Dodson said. “ Hamer says no,” he added.

‘Deliciously Simple’ Opinion

This is a “deliciously simple and definitive” opinion, Charles A. Bird of Dentons US LLP, San Diego, who filed an amicus brief on behalf the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers in support of Hamer, told Bloomberg Law.

The opinion is important because it clarifies jurisdictional time limits and it unanimously makes a distinction between a statute that controls jurisdiction and a rule that controls claim processing, Bird said.

The court should be done with this issue now, Bird said. The opinion provides lower courts with a bright line rule that shouldn’t be hard to apply, he said.

Time Limit Extended

Charmaine Hamer sued her employers, Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago and Fannie Mae’s Mortgage Help Center, for age discrimination after they fired her.

She lost, but her attorneys withdrew before filing an appeal. The district court gave her an additional 60 days to file the appeal in order to find new representation. Hamer filed her appeal within that extended time frame.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction because it had been filed after the 30-day limit imposed by the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at

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