Federal Rules of Civil Procedure: Easier to Read?

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Everybody handling a lawsuit needs to work within the court rules — for instance, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Alas, court rules are sometimes written in a rather dense style. But there’s hope! For over a decade a group within the Civil Rules Advisory Committee has been working on a revision of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to make them clearer and easier to understand.

A comprehensive revision of the rules was approved by the Judicial Conference of the United States in September. Now the proposal goes to the United States Supreme Court. If the justices approve, then the rules will be slated to take effect Dec. 1, 2007. (Congress gets to review proposed rule changes and can stop them from taking effect. Usually, Congress does nothing and the rules that the Court approves take effect.)

Here’s a taste of the change.

(Current) Rule 6. Time

(a) Computation. In computing any period of time prescribed or allowed by these rules, by the local rules of any district court, by order of court, or by any applicable statute, the day of the act, event, or default from which the designated period of time beginst o run shall not be included. The last day of the period so computed shall be included, unless it is a Saturday, a Sunday, or a legal holiday, or, when the act to be done is the filing of a paper in court, a day on which weather or other conditions have made the office of the clerk of the district court inaccessible, in which event the period runs until the end of the next day which is not one of the aforementioned days. When the period of time prescribed or allowed is less than 11 days, intermediate Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays shall be excluded in the computation. As used in this rule and in Rule 77(c), “legal holiday” includes New Year’s Day, Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and any other day appointed as a holiday by the President or the Congress of the United States, or by the state in which the district court is held.

(Proposed) Rule 6. Computing and Extending Time; Time for Motion Papers

(a) Computing Time. The following rules apply in computing any time period specified in these rules or in any local rule, court order, or statute:

(1) Day of the Event Excluded. Exclude the day of the act, event, or default that begins the period.

(2) Exclusions from Brief Periods. Exclude intermediate Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays when the period is less than 11 days.

(3) Last Day. Include the last day of the period unless it is a Saturday, Sunday, legal holiday, or — if the act to be done is filing a paper in court — a day on which weather or other conditions make the clerk’s office inaccessible. When the last day is excluded, the period runs until the end of the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, legal holiday, or day when the clerk’s office is accessible.

(4) “Legal Holiday” Defined. As used in these rules, “legal holiday” means:

(A) the day set aside by statute for observing New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving Day, or Christmas Day; and

(B) any other day declared a holiday by the President, Congress, or the state where the district court is located.

The answer’s the same, but I think the new rule is significantly easier to work one’s way through. The style revisions will be a boon for self-represented litigants (as well as for attorneys!) as they read and apply the rules. (They should also ease a little of the confusion of first-year law students’ civil procedure classes.)

All of the rules — along with a cover memo, the advisory committee’s official comments, and more — are here. My example, Rule 6, is from page 25 of the pdf.

2 Comments

  1. Orijit

    November 28, 2006 @ 2:41 pm

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    The changes certainly make the rules much easier to read for self-represented litigants. Do you happen to know how ‘the group within the Civil Rules Advisory Committee’ makes their decisions? It seems as though they received public comments on the ‘Style Project’, it would be interesting to find those comments and any surveys conducted to come up with the recommendations.

  2. MaryWhisner

    December 6, 2006 @ 8:54 pm

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    Orijit,

    You can get more information by reading the transmittal letter here.

    The letter describes the process of drafting. Bryan A. Garner, an expert on legal writing (see his website), started them off with a first draft and drafting guidelines. Prof. R. Joseph Kimble, who teaches legal writing at Thomas M. Cooley Law School, played a strong role.

    The letter mentions Prof. Stephen B. Burbank (University of Pennsylvania) and Gregory Joseph, Esq., who organized a committee (11 law professors and 10 practitioners) to review the draft and offer comments. Information about that committee is here. There you’ll find a link to the committee’s detailed comments.

    I hope you find this helpful. — Mary

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