Follow the Rules – A Lesson from the Ninth

Today’s decision in Sekiya v. Gates, case no. 06-15887 (9th Cir. November 29, 2007) is a reminder that the dismissal sanction is lurking out there for any parties to an appeal that fail to follow the rules. The Ninth finds the appellant’s opening brief so deficient that it is “compelled to strike it in its entirety and dismiss the appeal.”

The brief wasn’t merely “deficient.” It sounds like it did not resemble a brief at all.

The brief fails to provide the applicable standard of review, and makes virtually no legal arguments. Furthermore, it lacks a table of contents, a table of authorities, citations to authority, and accurate citations to the record.

You’re thinking, “Well, that’s what you get for proceeding in propria persona,” right? Think again. Appellant had counsel. Yet the analysis and citation to evidence (it was an appeal from summary judgment) were also deficient:

Bare assertions and lists of facts unaccompanied by analysis and completely devoid of caselaw fall far short of the requirement that counsel present “appellant’s contentions and the reasons for them.”

Despite the court’s assertion that it was publishing the case “as a reminder that material breaches of our rules undermine the administration of justice and cannot be tolerated,” it nonetheless conducts an independent review of the record in recognition of “the harshness of this rule, especially as its application could, if unwisely applied, leave a meritorious appellant without a legal remedy when the fault lies solely with his or her counsel.”

With this concern in mind, and despite the abject deficiency of the brief, we have reviewed Sekiya’s case on the merits based on a review of the district court record, and we are satisfied that the district court did not err.  Sekiya, however, is not “entitled to have us expatiate on our reasons for finding [her] case unmeritorious.” [Citation.]

Maybe the part I liked best was this quote:

In order to give fair consideration to those who call upon us for justice, we must insist that parties not clog the system by presenting us with a slubby mass of words rather than a true brief. [Citation.]

I think if I were a legal writing professor, I might talk about this case with my students and keep the phrase “slubby mass of words” handy.

UPDATE (12/5/07):  Lowering the Bar coins the term “Slubby Mass Rule” and delves into the etymology of “slubby.”