Appeal from Non-Appealable Order Does not Deprive District Court of Jurisdiction

Nasciemento v. Dummer, case no. 06-35062 (9th Cir. Nov. 21, 2007) presents a host of jurisdictional issues in a concise opinion. I recommend you read the entire opinion and will concentrate on just one of the issues here, since most of the principles in the opinion are well-established.

Nasciemento purported to appeal from a non-appealable order of the Nevada district court that dismissed some, but not all, defendants and transfered the case to the Montana district court (the “transfer order”). After his appeal was dismissed, but nine days before the mandate issued, the Montana district court entered a discovery scheduling order.

When the Montana court refused to extend time for discovery, Nasciemento filed an appeal from that order (the “discovery order”), which is likewise unappealable. A week later, the Montana Court dismissed Nasciemento’s complaint as a sanction for his failure to appear at a pretrial conference and his lack of preparation for trial (the “dismisssal order”).

Nasciemento claimed that the district court lacked jurisdiction to enter the discovery schedule or dismiss his complaint as a sanction during the appeals pending respectively at the time of each order.

The Ninth disagrees. It holds that since it never had jurisdiction over either appeal, the Montana court, as the transferee court, had jurisdiction to take further action in the case.

Litigants would be wise to assume this rule will apply even where the question of jurisdiction over the appeal is a close call or where it is a question of first impression, because the court draws no distinction between the timing of the two district court orders. When the discovery order was entered, the appeal from the transfer order had already been dismissed (though mandate had not yet issued), so the lack of appellate jurisdiction had been definitely established. The dismissal order, however, was entered just a week after Nasciemento filed his notice of appeal from the discovery order, and thus presumably before that appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

The timing of the determination of non-appealability would not appear to affect the outcome. But where appellate jurisdiction may be an open question, might more cautious district judges defer exercising jurisdiction until the issue of appealability is resolved?

Not Every Procedural Error is Jurisdictional

I know that sounds self-evident. But a jurisdictional challenge is your last hope on appeal if you’re relying on procedural irregularities that you let pass without objection. That’s because a jurisdictional defect can be raised any time in the course of the proceedings, so a party on appeal does not have to worry about having waived it.

But the appellant in In re Angel S., case no. C054446 (3d Dist. Oct. 23, 2007, modified and ordered published Nov. 13, 2007) isn’t able to pull it off.

The appellant in Angel S. had her probate guardianship of her 2-year-old great niece terminated after the girl suffered severe head injuries in appellant’s care and appellant later failed to complete steps ordered in the reunification services plan. She claimed that the juvenile court that terminated the guardianship lacked jurisdiction to do so because the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services petitioned to end the guardianship under Welfare and Institutions Code section 388 instead of by a motion under section 728 and did not give notice of the hearing to the minor’s father or establish that good faith attempts to locate him had failed.

But neither of these errors is jurisdictional, says the court. Section 728 conferred fundamental jurisdiction on the juvenile court to terminate the guardianship. Bringing the petition under the wrong section is a mere procedural defect that the appellant waived by failing to object below. As for notice, appellant had no standing to challenge a lack of jurisdiction as to the father that might result from the failure to serve him. She was provided notice of the hearing and appeared.

This case has a nice, succinct discussion of the difference between a lack of fundamental jurisdiction to hear and decide a matter vs. acts “in excess of” a court’s power to act even when it has fundamental jurisdiction. Both are a form of jurisdictional defect, but the distinction is important because the ways in which a lack of jurisdiction may be challenged depend on the type of jurisdictional defect. This case is worth reading for this summary alone.

Jurisdiction Not Interesting?

Professor Martin at California Appellate Report lauds Judge Bybee for his opinion in SEC v. Ross, case no. 05-35541 (9th Cir.  Oct. 15, 2007):

It’s an erudite, comprehensive, and incredibly good opinion.  On a subject (here, jurisdiction and service of process) that’s nowhere near inherently exciting.

Nowhere near inherently exciting?  Huh?  Then again, my favorite first-year law school class was Civil Procedure, so I’ve been a bit odd from the beginning.

That said, I’m too busy at the moment to read this lengthy decision.  But I skimmed it, and here’s the first thing that jumped out at me:  Bustos, a pro se appellant, beats Allen Matkins and the SEC and convinces the Ninth that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction to order disgorgement of his sales commissions.  Not bad.