SCOTUS Petitioner Seeking Relief From Missed Deadline Misses Deadline (And How the Supreme Court Is Like My Toddler)

Missed Deadlines

It’s been wickedly cold in Washington, D.C. lately. And not just because I’m from Southern California. It’s actually been below freezing.

So when my three-year old daughter got her glove stuck outside my daycare provider’s front door the other day—after I told her for the billionth time not to leave without me—I probably should have rescued her.

Instead, I embraced a teachable moment and spent a minute discussing “very important” matters with her teacher while my daughter dangled in the cold with her arm uncomfortably twisted above her head.

“Mama, I’m stuck! Mama… it’s kinda cold out here! Mom… ?”

I don’t expect that my daughter will have any more issues with this.

But Friday Jan. 9, the Supreme Court got stuck outside of my daycare provider’s door too. Or rather, like my daughter it found itself in a bizarre situation that was actually kind of foreseeable.

The court dismissed the case of Bobby Chen v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore (No. 13-10400) because Mr. Chen failed to file his opening merits brief within the required 45 days and because he didn’t respond to mail sent to his given address.

Thousands of petitions are filed each term, asking the justices to review lower court decisions. But the court only agrees to hear around 75 of those.

So I’m sure it’s surprising that anyone wouldn’t go to great lengths to answer the call of the U.S. Supreme Court once it has agreed to hear his case. But I’m not really sure it’s surprising that this petitioner didn’t respond.

After all, Mr. Chen wound up at the Supreme Court because… wait for it… he missed a deadline.

In 2009, Mr. Chen sued Baltimore officials for razing his home.

After missing a court-imposed deadline to retain counsel, and because—according to the district court below—he “failed to inform the Court of a workable address for receipt of notices,” the court dismissed his case without prejudice.

Mr. Chen brought his suit again in 2011. This time he failed to serve the defendants within the 120 day period, and ultimately the court dismissed his case once again.

The issue presented by Mr. Chen’s case is significant. In the words of the district court below, it involves “the seemingly never-ending saga concerning whether [] a showing of good cause is required to extend the time for service beyond 120 days.”

And the justices certainly can’t be faulted for wanting to put this reoccurring issue to bed.

But like the predicament awaiting my daughter outside my daycare provider’s seemingly booby-trapped home, this quandary wasn’t entirely unforeseen.

Ok maybe I didn’t know my daughter would get stuck like a pretzel in the freezing cold. Just like how it’s probably unprecedented that a petitioner wouldn’t file a merits brief after going to the trouble to seek and get Supreme Court review.

But I did worry that something would happen to my daughter if she ran off without me. And that’s why I told her not to do it in the first place.

And so it seems that after sending numerous signs that went unheeded, the universe looked at the Supreme Court Friday Jan. 9 and smugly said, “I told you so.”

Take a free trial to United States Law Week to keep up with the latest expert perspectives and detailed analysis of Supreme Court actions.