OCTOBER TERM, 1995
STUTSON v. UNITED STATES
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
No. 94-8988. Decided January 8,1996
The District Court held that petitioner Stutson's untimely appeal from his federal conviction and prison sentence was not the result of excusable neglect within the meaning of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(b) because his lawyer's office mailed his notice of appeal so that it arrived one working day late and at the Court of Appeals rather than at the District Court. The court's opinion did not advert to this Court's holding in Pioneer Investment Services Co. v. Brunswick Associates Ltd. Partnership, 507 U. S. 380, that, in some circumstances, a party's inadvertent failure to file a proof of claim in a timely manner in bankruptcy proceedings is excusable neglect under the bankruptcy rules. On appeal, the Government argued that Pioneer did not apply to the Rule 4(b) criminal appeal context, and the Eleventh Circuit dismissed the appeal without hearing oral argument or writing an opinion. In response to Stutson's certiorari petition, the Government has reversed its position, adopting the view of six Courts of Appeals that the Pioneer standard applies in Rule 4 cases.
Held: Using the analysis set forth in Lawrence v. Chater, ante, p. 163 (per curiam), the particularities of this case merit an order granting the petition for certiorari, vacating the judgment below, and remanding the case (GVR). There appears to be a reasonable probability that the Eleventh Circuit will reach a different conclusion on remand, and the equities clearly favor a GVR order. The exceptional combination of circumstances here-the Government has repudiated the position that it advanced below; the only opinion below did not consider the import of a recent Supreme Court precedent which both parties now agree applies; the Eleventh Circuit summarily affirmed that decision; all six Courts of Appeals that have addressed the applicability of Pioneer have concluded that it applies to Rule 4 cases; and Stutson is in jail having, through no fault of his own, had no plenary consideration of his appealpresents ample justification for the order. Here, as in Lawrence, a GVR order guarantees Stutson full and fair consideration of his rights in light of all pertinent considerations, and is also satisfactory to the Government. The order both promotes fairness and respects the Eleventh Circuit's dignity by enabling it to consider potentially relevant decisions and arguments that were not previously before it.
Certiorari granted; vacated and remanded.
Our per curiam opinion issued today in a civil case, Lawrence v. Chater, ante, p. 163; contains a general discussion of the considerations that properly influence this Court in deciding whether to grant a petition for certiorari, vacate the judgment below, and remand the case (GVR) for further consideration in light of potentially pertinent matters which it appears that the lower court may not have considered. Here, we apply that analysis to a criminal case, again finding that the particularities of the case before us merit a GVR.
Stutson, the petitioner in this case, is currently serving a federal prison sentence of 292 months for cocaine possession. He has had no appellate review of his legal arguments against conviction and sentence. The District Court held that his appeal was untimely and that the untimeliness was not the result of "excusable neglect" within the meaning of Rule 4(b) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, because his lawyer's office mailed his notice of appeal so that it arrived one working day late for the 10-day deadline, and at the Court of Appeals, when it should have been sent to the District Court. The District Court's opinion did not advert to our decision in Pioneer Investment Services Co. v. Brunswick Associates Ltd. Partnership, 507 U. S. 380 (1993), rendered one day before Stutson's brief was due in the District Court and not cited in the briefs before that court. In Pioneer, we held that a party could in some circumstances rely on his attorney's inadvertent failure to file a proof of claim in a timely manner in bankruptcy proceedings as "excusable neglect" under the bankruptcy rules.
Stutson appealed the District Court's ruling. In their briefs to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the parties disputed the applicability of Pioneer's liberal understanding of "excusable neglect" to the Rule 4(b) criminal appeal context, the Government contending that it applied only in bankruptcy cases. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court and dismissed Stutson's appeal without