Torres v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 487 U.S. 312 (1988)

Author: Justice Marshall

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Torres v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 487 U.S. 312 (1988)

JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a federal appellate court has jurisdiction over a party who was not specified in the notice of appeal in accordance with Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 3(c).


Petitioner Jose Torres is one of 16 plaintiffs who intervened in an employment discrimination suit against respondent after receiving notice of the action pursuant to a settlement agreement between respondent and the original plaintiffs. In their complaint, the intervenors purported to proceed not only on their own behalf, but also on behalf of all persons similarly situated. On August 31, 1981, the District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim warranting relief. 4 Record, Doc. No. 87. A class had not been certified at the time of the dismissal.

On September 29, 1981, a notice of appeal was filed in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings. Bonilla v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 697 F.2d 1297 (1982). Both the notice of appeal and the order of the Court of Appeals omitted petitioner’s name. It is undisputed that the omission in the notice of appeal was due to a clerical error on the part of a secretary employed by petitioner’s attorney.

On remand, respondent moved for partial summary judgment on the ground that the prior judgment of dismissal was final as to petitioner by virtue of his failure to appeal. The District Court granted respondent’s motion. App. to Pet. for Cert. B-l, Civ. Action No. C 75-0060 CAL (ND Cal., Oct. 30, 1985). The Court of Appeals affirmed, judgment order reported at 807 F.2d 178 (1986), holding that, "[u]nless a party is named in the notice of appeal, the appellate court does not have jurisdiction over him." App. to Pet. for Cert A-4, citing Farley Transportation Co. v. Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co., 778 F.2d 1365, 1368 (CA9 1985).

We granted certiorari to resolve a conflict in the Circuits over whether a failure to file a notice of appeal in accordance with the specificity requirement of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 3(c) presents a jurisdictional bar to the appeal.{1} 484 U.S. 894 (1987). We now affirm.


Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 3(c) provides in pertinent part that a notice of appeal "shall specify the party or parties taking the appeal." The Rule was amended in 1979 to add that an appeal "shall not be dismissed for informality of form or title of the notice of appeal." This caveat does not aid petitioner in the instant case. The failure to name a party in a notice of appeal is more than excusable "informality;" it constitutes a failure of that party to appeal.

More broadly, Rule 2 gives courts of appeals the power, for "good cause shown," to "suspend the requirements or provisions of any of these rules in a particular case on application of a party or on its own motion." Rule 26(b), however, contains certain exceptions to this grant of broad equitable discretion. The exception pertinent to this case forbids a court to "enlarge" the time limits for filing a notice of appeal, which are prescribed in Rule 4. We believe that the mandatory nature of the time limits contained in Rule 4 would be vitiated if courts of appeals were permitted to exercise jurisdiction over parties not named in the notice of appeal. Permitting courts to exercise jurisdiction over unnamed parties after the time for filing a notice of appeal has passed is equivalent to permitting courts to extend the time for filing a notice of appeal. Because the Rules do not grant courts the latter power, we hold that the Rules likewise withhold the former.

We find support for our view in the Advisory Committee Note following Rule 3:

Rule 3 and Rule 4 combine to require that a notice of appeal be filed with the clerk of the district court within the time prescribed for taking an appeal. Because the timely filing of a notice of appeal is "mandatory and jurisdictional," United States v. Robinson, [361 U.S. 220, 224 (1960)], compliance with the provisions of those rules is of the utmost importance.

28 U.S.C.App. p. 467. This admonition by the Advisory Committee makes no distinction among the various requirements of Rule 3 and Rule 4; rather it treats the requirements of the two Rules as a single jurisdictional threshold. The Advisory Committee’s caveat that courts should "dispense with literal compliance in cases in which it cannot fairly be exacted," ibid., is not to the contrary. The examples cited by the Committee make clear that it was referring generally to the kinds of cases later addressed by the 1979 amendment to Rule 3(c), which excuses "informality of form or title" in a notice of appeal.{2} Permitting imperfect but substantial compliance with a technical requirement is not the same as waiving the requirement altogether as a jurisdictional threshold. Our conclusion that the Advisory Committee viewed the requirements of Rule 3 as jurisdictional in nature, although not determinative, is "of weight" in our construction of the Rule. Mississippi Publishing Corp. v. Murphree, 326 U.S. 438, 444 (1946).

Nor does this Court’s decision in Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178 (1962), compel a contrary construction. In Foman, the Court addressed a separate provision of Rule 3(c) requiring that a notice of appeal "designate the judgment, order or part thereof appealed from." Foman was a plaintiff whose complaint was dismissed. He first filed motions in the District Court seeking to vacate the judgment against him and to amend his complaint. While the motions were pending, he filed a notice of appeal from the dismissal. When the District Court denied his motions, Foman filed a second notice of appeal from the denial. The Court of Appeals concluded that the first notice of appeal was premature because of Foman’s pending motions, and that the second notice of appeal failed to designate the underlying dismissal as the judgment appealed from. This Court reversed the appellate court’s refusal to hear Foman’s appeal on the merits of his dismissal, holding that the court should have treated the second notice of appeal as "an effective, although inept, attempt to appeal from the judgment sought to be vacated." Id. at 181.

Foman did not address whether the requirement of Rule 3(c) at issue in that case was jurisdictional in nature; rather, the Court simply concluded that, in light of all the circumstances, the Rule had been complied with. We do not dispute the important principle for which Foman stands -- that the requirements of the rules of procedure should be liberally construed, and that "mere technicalities" should not stand in the way of consideration of a case on its merits. Ibid. Thus, if a litigant files papers in a fashion that is technically at variance with the letter of a procedural rule, a court may nonetheless find that the litigant has complied with the rule if the litigant’s action is the functional equivalent of what the rule requires. See, e.g., Houston v. Lack, ante p. 266 (delivery of notice of appeal by pro se prisoner to prison authorities for mailing constitutes "filing" within the meaning of Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure 3 and 4). But although a court may construe the Rules liberally in determining whether they have been complied with, it may not waive the jurisdictional requirements of Rules 3 and 4, even for "good cause shown" under Rule 2, if it finds that they have not been met.{3}

Applying these principles to the instant case, we find that petitioner failed to comply with the specificity requirement of Rule 3(c), even liberally construed. Petitioner did not file the functional equivalent of a notice of appeal; he was never named or otherwise designated, however inartfully, in the notice of appeal filed by the 15 other intervenors. Nor did petitioner seek leave to amend the notice of appeal within the time limits set by Rule 4. Thus, the Court of Appeals was correct that it never had jurisdiction over petitioner’s appeal.

Petitioner urges that the use of "et al." in the notice of appeal was sufficient to indicate his intention to appeal. We cannot agree. The purpose of the specificity requirement of Rule 3(c) is to provide notice both to the opposition and to the court of the identity of the appellant or appellants. The use of the phrase "et al.," which literally means "and others," utterly fails to provide such notice to either intended recipient. Permitting such vague designation would leave the appellee and the court unable to determine with certitude whether a losing party not named in the notice of appeal should be bound by an adverse judgment or held liable for costs or sanctions. The specificity requirement of Rule 3(c) is met only by some designation that gives fair notice of the specific individual or entity seeking to appeal.

We recognize that construing Rule 3(c) as a jurisdictional prerequisite leads to a harsh result in this case, but we are convinced that the harshness of our construction is "imposed by the legislature, and not by the judicial process." Schiavone v. Fortune, 477 U.S. 21, 31 (1986) (construing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c) in a similarly implacable fashion).

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

It is so ordered.

1. Compare Farley Transportation Co. v. Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co., 778 F.2d 1365, 1368-1370 (CA9 1985) (failure to specify party to appeal is jurisdictional bar); Covington v. Allsbrook, 636 F.2d 63, 64 (CA4 1980) (same); Life Time Doors, Inc. v. Walled Lake Door Co., 505 F.2d 1165, 1168 (CA6 1974) (same), with Ayres v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 789 F.2d 1173, 1177 (CA5 1986) (appeal by party not named in notice of appeal is permitted in limited instances); Harrison v. United States, 715 F.2d 1311, 1312-1313 (CA8 1983) (same); Williams v. Frey, 551 F.2d 932, 934, n. 1 (CA3 1977) (same).

2. For example, the Advisory Committee approvingly cited cases permitting a letter from a prisoner to a judge to suffice as a notice of appeal, see Riffle v. United States, 299 F.2d 802 (CA5 1962), and permitting the mailing of a notice of appeal to constitute its time of "filing," rather than its receipt by the court, see Halfen v. United States, 324 F.2d 52 (CA10 1963).

3. In addition to urging that the requirements of Rule 3(c) are not jurisdictional in nature, petitioner advances two other arguments in support of his position, neither of which has merit. First, petitioner argues that courts of appeals should apply "harmless error" analysis to defects in a notice of appeal. This argument misunderstands the nature of a jurisdictional requirement: a litigant’s failure to clear a jurisdictional hurdle can never be "harmless" or waived by a court. Second, petitioner argues that refusal to permit him to cure the defect in the original notice of appeal will unfairly permit absent class members, now that the suit has been certified as a class action, to obtain relief from which petitioner is barred. The District Court, however, in granting summary judgment against petitioner, explicitly left open "the issue of whether Mr. Torres can or cannot participate in this litigation as a member of a class, should a class be properly certified." App. to Pet. for Cert. B-4.


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Chicago: Marshall, "Marshall, J., Lead Opinion," Torres v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 487 U.S. 312 (1988) in 487 U.S. 312 487 U.S. 314–487 U.S. 318. Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022,

MLA: Marshall. "Marshall, J., Lead Opinion." Torres v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 487 U.S. 312 (1988), in 487 U.S. 312, pp. 487 U.S. 314–487 U.S. 318. Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022.

Harvard: Marshall, 'Marshall, J., Lead Opinion' in Torres v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 487 U.S. 312 (1988). cited in 1988, 487 U.S. 312, pp.487 U.S. 314–487 U.S. 318. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from