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Moment v. Mortel

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 18, 2018

RENEE MORTEL, a/k/a Renee MartelJoy, State Attorneyss Office, Defendant



         This case has come back to the Court on remand from the Fourth Circuit. See Moment v. Martel, 733 Fed.Appx. 127 (4th Cir. 2018) (per curiam). The Fourth Circuitss per curiam opinion specifies that the remand is for "the limited purpose of allowing the district court to determine when [Defendant Michael] Moment received notice of the district court's entry of its final order and whether he is entitled to a reopening of the appeal period pursuant to" Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(6). Id. I conclude that Moment received notice of the entry of judgment on February 23, 2017, and deny his motion to reopen the appeal period.


         This Court issued an order dismissing Momentss case with prejudice on February 15, 2017. Order, ECF NO.9. The docket notes that the Clerk of the Court both closed the case and sent the order to Moment by certified mail that same day. The Court mailed the order to what was then Momentss last known address: 1109 Montrose Ave., Laurel, Maryland 20707.[1]

         The Court had no way of knowing it at the time, but it turns out Moment - who was then a prisoner at a Maryland correctional facility - had just sent the Court a change-of-address notification. See Change-of-Address Notification, ECF NO.1O. The postal stamp on the envelope indicates the notification was malled on February 14, 2017, the day before the Court issued and mailed the Order dismissing Momentss case. Id. The notification, explaining that a state court judge had just issued Moment a 14-year prison sentence, listed his "new address" as that of the Mohtgomery County Correctional Facility in Boyds, Maryland. Id.

         The Clerk of the Court docketed the change-of-address notification on February 16, 2017. However, the Clerk's Office did not send a copy of the Court's order to the newly provided address until February 23, 2017. This mailing never reached Momene;[2] rather, the mail carrier marked the envelope as undeliverable and returned it to the Court on March 6, 2017.[3] First Returned Mailing, ECF No. 12. A second attempt to mail the order to Moment at the Montgomery County facility was likewise unsuccessfu.. See Second Returned Mailing, ECF No. 14.

         Moment next contacted the Court in late March, by which time, it is clear, he was incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, Maryland. March 2017 Letter, ECF No. 13. That letter, which was dated March 24, 2017, but marked as mailed three days later, states that Moment had just received notification that one of his other federal cases had closed. Id. The letter asks the Court for an update on the status of Momentss other cases, including this one. Id.

         Moment filed a Notice of Appeal on April 6, 2017. See Notice of Appeal, ECF No. 15. The Notice is dated April 3, 2017 and was sent from the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup the following day. Id. The Court promptly transmitted the Case to the Fourth Circuit. See Appeal Transmittal Sheet, ECF No. 16. The Fourth Circuit remanded the case on August 1, 2018. See Moment, 733 Fed.Appx. 127. Its per curiam opinion noted that Moment had failed to file the notice of appeal within 30 days of the entry of the final judgment in his case, as required under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(1)(A). Id. However, the opinion left open the possibility this Court might elect to reopen the appeal period under Rule 4(a)(6). Id.

         On remand, this Court granted Moment 28 days to file a declaration attesting to the date he first received notice that his case had been dismissed. August 13, 2018 Order, ECF No. 20. The Clerk of the Court sent the order by certified mail to Momentss last known address, but it too returned as undeliverable. Third Returned Mailing, ECF No. 21. On September 16, 2018, the Court issued yet another order, this time directing Moment to show cause why his case should not be dismissed for failure to comply with Local Rule 102.1.b.iii, which requires pro se parties to inform the Court of any changes in their address. September 6, 2018 Order, ECF No. 22. The Clerk, complying with the Court's order, promptly sent the order by certified mail to Momentss sister's address in Laurel, Maryland. This, too, bounced back as undeliverable. Fourth Returned Mailing, ECF No. 23.


         Rule 4(a)(6) gives a district court discretion to reopen the time to file an appeal for 14 days. Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(6). Under the rule, the court may take this step only if all three of the following conditions are satisfied: (1) "the court finds that the moving party did not receive notice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 77(d) of the entry of the judgment. . . within 21 days after entry"; (2) "the motion is filed within 180 days after the judgment... is entered or within 14 days after the moving party receives notice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure n7(d) of the entry, whichever is earlier"; and (3) "the court finds that no party would be prejudiced." Id.

         Under the first prong of this inquiry, the Court must determine when, if ever, Moment "receive[d] notice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 77(d) of the entry" of the final judgment in this case. Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(6)(A). To resolve this question, the Court must consult the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure.

         I first look to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 77(d)(1), which provides: "Immediately after entering an order or judgmen,, the clerk must serve notice of the entry, as provided in Rule 5(b), on each party who is not in default for failing to appear." Fed.R.Civ.P. 77(d)(1). This rule refers to Rule 5(b), which outlines acceptable methods of serving court filings. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 5(b)(2). For present purposes, it is relevant to note that Rule 5(b)(2)(C) authorizes service by "mailing [the filing] to the personss last known address - in which event service is complete upon mailing." Fed.R.Civ.P. 5(b)(2)(C).

         Turning to the facts, I observe that the Clerk first attempted to serve notice on Moment on February 15, 2017, the day the Court issued the order dismissing the case. The record shows, though, that prison officials had already mailed a change-of-address notification on Momentss behalf before the Clerk could send him the order. See Change-of-Address Notificaiion. Applying the "prison mailbox rule," I will treat the change-of-address notification as having been filed when Moment delivered it to prison officials for mailing to the Court. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(c)(1); Stevenson v. Anderson, 139 Fed.Appx. 603, 604 (5th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (applying the prison mailbox rule ...

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