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On February 26, 2019, the Supreme Court decided Nutraceutical Corp. v. Lambert, a case considering whether Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f), which imposes a 14-day deadline for appealing from a grant or denial of class-action certification, is subject to equitable tolling. 

Troy Lambert filed a class action lawsuit against Nutraceutical Corp., a drug manufacturer, alleging violations of U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements and various California consumer protection statutes.  The district court initially certified the class action, but following reassignment of the case to a new judge and discovery raising concerns about Lambert’s classwide damages model, Nutraceutical moved to decertify the class and the district court granted the motion on February 20, 2015. Under Rule 23(f), Lambert had fourteen days from the date the motion was granted to seek permission in the Court of Appeals to appeal the order. 

Lambert indicated on March 2 that he intended to file a motion for reconsideration, but did not do so until March 12, 2015, which fell within a deadline set by the district court but beyond 14-day window specified in Rule 23(f). The district court denied Lambert’s motion, and only then did he seek permission in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to appeal the class decertification. Nutraceutical objected that Lambert’s petition was untimely under Rule 23(f). The Court disagreed, reasoning that Rule 23(f) was non-jurisdictional and the deadline could therefore be equitably tolled given Lambert’s general diligence in following the district court’s instructions.  Reaching the merits, the Ninth Circuit then reversed the decertification order on the grounds that the district court had abused its discretion.  Nutraceutical successfully petitioned for certiorari.

In an opinion written by Justice Sotomayor, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and remanded the case, holding the Rule 23(f) is not subject to equitable tolling. 

To the discuss the case, we have Michael Morley, Assistant Professor of Law at Florida State University College of Law.