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FRCP 58 requires that judgments of any federal district court be in a "separate document," and non-compliance causes an official date of judgment to be set 150 days after the court's final decision.
In Brown v. Fifth Third Bank, Judge Posner of the Seventh Circuit is confronted by a blatant disregard for the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) and decides that it's time to lay down the law. And who doesn't love it when Judge Posner lays down the law?
Civil Procedure for Judgments
Unsurprisingly for a federal judge, the eminent Judge Posner is a bit of a stickler for civil procedure (and cite checking apparently), so blatant disregard of the FRCP was likely to rub him the wrong way.
That's just what the district court did in Brown. After dismissing the appellant's claim with prejudice, the district court did not file a separate document reflecting the judgment -- in compliance with Rule 58 -- the court clerk only made a docket entry reflecting that notice had been made to the parties of the judgment.
Posner goes on to explain that the Northern District of Illinois, which covers the bulk of Chicago's cases, is a particular thorn in the Seventh Circuit's side having been told again and again to make separate documents to comply with Rule 58, but refusing.
For dramatic effect, Posner gives a laundry list of cases (like this 2009 case) in which this issue occurred, but in these past cases, the Seventh Circuit let non-compliance slide.
Not this time.
Tough Love and Overturned Cases
Just in case you think Posner is being theatrical, he lays out cases in every other circuit that disapprove of the lazy practice perpetrated by the district court here. Why, there's even a pre-printed form that will satisfy Rule 58 compliance.
So, the Seventh Circuit is done being the "cool" parent that lets its district court children slide on complying strictly with the rules; the prior precedent allowing substitutes for Rule 58 are effectively overturned.
To allow a docket entry to suffice for Rule 58 compliance, Posner opines, would essentially collapse the requirements of Rule 58 into Rule 77, which separately requires that docket entry to show notice of a judgment. Speaking directly to the issue at hand, non-compliance with Rule 58 seriously undermines the appeal process by starting the clock on how long before an appeal is barred.
The Seventh Circuit, like every other Circuit, now requires strict compliance with Rule 58, and there's already a handy dandy form to make it happen.