Smith v. Barry - 502 U.S. 244 (1992)


OCTOBER TERM, 1991

Syllabus

SMITH v. BARRY ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

No. 90-7477. Argued December 2, 1991-Decided January 14, 1992

Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure conditions federal appellate jurisdiction on the filing of a timely notice of appeal. In response to petitioner Smith's filing of a premature, and therefore invalid, notice of appeal in his action for damages against state officials under 42 U. S. C. § 1983, the Fourth Circuit's Clerk sent the parties copies of the "informal brief" that that court uses in pro se appeals and an explanatory order. Smith returned his informal brief within the deadline for filing a notice of appeal, but the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal for want of jurisdiction, concluding, inter alia, that a brief can never be considered a notice of appeal.

Held: A document intended to serve as an appellate brief may qualify as the notice of appeal required by Rule 3. So long as such a document is filed within the time allowed by Rule 4 for a notice of appeal and satisfies Rule 3(c)'s requirements as to the content of such a notice, it may be treated as the "functional equivalent" of the formal notice demanded by Rule 3. Torres v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 487 U. S. 312, 317. The fact that Smith filed his informal brief in response to a briefing order is irrelevant, since it is the notice afforded by a document, not the litigant's motivation in filing it, that determines the document's sufficiency as a notice of appeal. Moreover, the fact that the Rules envision that the notice of appeal and the appellant's brief will be two separate filings does not preclude an appellate court from treating the brief as a notice of appeal in the appropriate circumstances. Rule 3(c) requires that an appeal not be dismissed for informality of form or title of the notice of appeal, and proper briefing is not a jurisdictional requirement under the Rules. The fact that Smith filed his brief with the Court of Appeals, rather than the District Court as required by Rule 3(a), is also irrelevant, since Rule 4(a)(I) sets out procedures to be followed when the notice of appeal is mistakenly filed with an appellate court. On remand, the Court of Appeals should determine whether Smith's brief contains the information required for a notice of appeal by Rule 3(c). pp.247-250.

919 F.2d 893, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST,


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JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p.250.

Steven H. Goldblatt argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner.

David H. Bamberger argued the cause for respondents.

With him on the brief were J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General of Maryland, Evelyn O. Cannon, Richard Kastendieck, and Glenn Bell, Assistant Attorneys General, and Glen K. Allen.

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court. Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure conditions federal appellate jurisdiction on the filing of a timely notice of appeal. In this case, we hold that a document intended to serve as an appellate brief may qualify as the notice of appeal required by Rule 3.

I

While an inmate at the Maryland State Penitentiary, petitioner William Smith filed a pro se action against two prison administrators, seven corrections officers, two state psychologists, and named respondent Dr. Wayne Barry, a private physician. Suing under 42 U. S. C. § 1983, Smith alleged that he suffered from a psychogenic pain disorder and that the defendants' refusal to provide him with a wheelchair constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Smith further alleged that the officers used excessive force against him, also in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

The District Court dismissed Dr. Barry as a defendant on the ground that he did not act under color of state law when treating Smith and therefore was not subject to suit under § 1983. App. 5-6. The case proceeded to trial in 1988, following appointment of counsel. After Smith presented his case in chief, the District Court directed a verdict for the prison administrators and officers on Smith's wheelchair


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Full Text of Opinion

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