Smith v. Barry, 502 U.S. 244 (1992)

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SMITH v. BARRY et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fourth circuit

No. 90-7477. Argued December 2, 1991—Decided January 14, 1992

Rule 3 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure conditions federal appellate jurisdiction on the filing of a timely notice of appeal. In response to petitioner Smith's filing of a premature, and therefore invalid, notice of appeal in his action for damages against state officials under 42 U. S. C. 1983, the Fourth Circuit's Clerk sent the parties copies of the "informal brief" that that court uses in pro se appeals and an explanatory order. Smith returned his informal brief within the deadline for filing a notice of appeal, but the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal for want of jurisdiction, concluding, inter alia, that a brief can never be considered a notice of appeal.

Held: A document intended to serve as an appellate brief may qualify as the notice of appeal required by Rule 3. So long as such a document is filed within the time allowed by Rule 4 for a notice of appeal and satisfies Rule 3(c)'s requirements as to the content of such a notice, it may be treated as the "functional equivalent" of the formal notice demanded by Rule 3. Torres v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 487 U. S. 312, 317. The fact that Smith filed his informal brief in response to a briefing order is irrelevant, since it is the notice afforded by a document, not the litigant's motivation in filing it, that determines the document's sufficiency as a notice of appeal. Moreover, the fact that the Rules envision that the notice of appeal and the appellant's brief will be two separate filings does not preclude an appellate court from treating the brief as a notice of appeal in the appropriate circumstances. Rule 3(c) requires that an appeal not be dismissed for informality of form or title of the notice of appeal, and proper briefing is not a jurisdictional requirement under the Rules. The fact that Smith filed his brief with the Court of Appeals, rather than the District Court as required by Rule 3(a), is also irrelevant, since Rule 4(a)(1) sets out procedures to be followed when the notice of appeal is mistakenly filed with an appellate court. On remand, the Court of Appeals should determine whether Smith's brief contains the information required for a notice of appeal by Rule 3(c). Pp. 247-250.

919 F. 2d 893, reversed and remanded.

O'Connor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and White, Blackmun, Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, and Thomas,

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