Lack of Conformity in Federal Civil Procedure

For context, read our prior post on making a timeline of civil procedure.  

Layers of rules in federal court.

If you have been sued in federal court, navigating the court system without a lawyer is nearly impossible.  You must adhere to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which outline the rules for litigating a case.  These rules are very complicated.  Law students spend two semesters learning the intricacies of the federal rules.  And lawyers routinely make mistakes when applying them.

That’s just the first layer. The federal rules are not applied uniformly throughout the nation. Each of the 94 federal district courts have “local rules” that explain how the court applies the federal rules in the district.  The local rules also include additional requirements about how to format and file court documents, how to arrange hearings with judges, etc.

To make matters worse, many of the over 2,700 federal district court judges have “standing orders” which describe how those specific judges apply the federal rules.  The standing orders also include even more requirements about how to format documents, etc.

The result is a court system that is inaccessible to anyone who canot afford a lawyer.  If you do not precisely adhere to this layered rule system, you can lose your lawsuit. For example, in the District of Utah, the plaintiff must respond to a motion to dismiss within 14 days of when the motion is filed.  See Local Rule 7-1(b)(3)(B).  In the Southern District of California, the plaintiff must respond within 14 days of the hearing to argue the motion.  See Local Rule 7.1(e)(2).  Depending on the hearing date, this can give the plaintiff over a month to respond.  If you are a plaintiff in Utah and you file a response 14 days before the hearing, the time to respond will likely have passed and your case could be dismissed–i.e. you lose.

Most states do not have this problem.  Utah, for example, adheres to one set of civil procedure rules.  There are not local rules that cater to different state courts or judges.  This makes state civil procedure much more accessible.

Creating a timeline of civil procedure. 

As we posted earlier, we are considering creating a timeline of civil procedure.  We have already decided against timelining the federal rules, due to the lack of uniformity described above.  You could not make a single timeline of  how to navigate a case in federal court.  The local rules and standing orders vary too much.  Instead, if we pursue the timeline project, we will use the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure–a clean set of rules applied uniformly across the state.




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