Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 23(f), a federal appeals court may hear an appeal from an order granting or denying class certification if the appeal is filed within 14 days after the trial court’s order is entered. The Supreme Court took up the question as to whether the deadline could be extended under equitable tolling principles. On February 26, 2019, the United States Supreme Court held in Nutraceutical v. Lambert that equitable tolling does not apply to extend the 14-day deadline to appeal an order denying or granting class certification under Federal Rule 23(f).
In Nutraceutical, Troy Lambert filed a class action alleging violations of California’s false advertising and unfair competition laws arising out of Nutraceutical’s sale of dietary supplements. After initially certifying the class in 2014, the District Court decertified the class on February 20, 2015. In response, rather than filing an appeal under Rule 23(f), Lambert was instructed by the District Court to file a motion for reconsideration within 30 days. Fourteen days after the motion for reconsideration was denied, but four months after the decertification order, Lambert filed his notice of appeal of the decertification order with the Federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit allowed the filing beyond the 14-day deadline under equitable tolling principles, and Nutraceutical appealed.
In holding that the equitable tolling did not apply, the Supreme Court explained that the text of Rule 23(f) did not leave room for any interpretation, including an equitable extension or tolling. The Court reasoned that the Federal Rules “express a clear intent to compel rigorous enforcement of Rule 23(f)’s deadline, even where good cause for equitable tolling might exist.” Thus, in strictly construing the Rule and the plain text, the Court concluded Lambert’s Rule 26(f) appeal was untimely. The decision is significant because it demonstrates the current Court’s preference of strictly applying the provisions of Rule 23, which may place constraints on classes of plaintiffs while benefitting defendant corporations.