A series of amendments to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure designed to lighten the burdens on appellate judges by tightening page limits and clarify due process procedures for inmates go into effect today. (Download the .pdf of the rules and redline here. Transmitted to Congress back in April, the changes affect Appellate Rules 4, 5, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28, 28.1, 29, 32, 35, and 40, Forms 1, 5, and 6, and create a new Form 7 for inmate filers and new Appendix to assist in determining the new, shorter, word limits for various filings. Notably, the rules also take away the so-called “mail days” from items served electronically. The rules also separate out procedures for amicus curiae participation at the merits stage of a case and on rehearing (more on this in a later blog post).
The biggest change for appellate practitioners is the complete shift to word limits rather than page limits for all filings prepared by a computer in appellate matters, and the tightening of word limits for briefs and other items already governed by word counts. While the rules committee recognized that counting words would be burdensome to inmates preparing handwritten or typed matters, and therefore left in place page limits for documents prepared by those methods, for the rest of us our filings must now comply with word limits. As explained in the committee notes:
The word limits were derived from the current page limits using the
assumption that one page is equivalent to 260 words.
But notably, this 260 word count is lower than the one used in previous rule changes. As the Committee Notes to Rule 28.1 points out, in 2005 the Committee had used a 280 words per page conversion, but “responding to concern about the length of briefs” has shaved 20 words per page from the conversion ratio. The Committee then applied this new standard to existing word counts:
Principal Brief: 13,000 words (formerly 14,000)
Reply Brief: 6,500 words (formerly 7,000)
To ensure that everyone is counting the same words, the amendments createed a new 32(f) to clarify what is excluded from the word count, deleting the former Rule 32(a)(7)(B)(iii). Don’t worry about your words in the following sections of your brief:
A certificate of compliance with these type-volume standards is required on most filings under new Rule 32(g) — it’s not much different than the old certificate, but it is located in a different subdivision of the rule now, so be sure to update your form briefs to make sure you are citing the correct rule in your certification and follow the updated Form 6 as your guide. The new form is more generic than the old, as it now refers to “document” rather than “brief” and must be used on all documents with type volume limit, not just briefs.
The rule change also makes clear that local courts have the ability by local rule to enlarge these lengths, though the regional circuits must accept briefs that meet these lengths and can’t require shorter briefs. See FRAP 32(c).
Finally, the drafters kindly put together a handy Appendix [.pdf] that includes a chart showing all of the new type-volume limitations, so there is an easy reference to knowing all the new volume limits.