On December 1, 2010, the new amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure went into effect. One recipient of the Advisory Committee’s ministrations was Rule 56, which received its most thorough overhaul since the rule was first drafted in 1938.
The changes, although significant, do not undermine the purpose of summary judgment, which is to winnow down the issues that require consideration by a fact-finder. But one victim of the editor’s pen was the response and reply period subsequent to the filing of a motion for summary judgment. The 20-day response period was revised in 2009 to a 21-day response period that, in turn, corresponded to the standardized 7-day and 14-day time periods that the 2009 revisions implemented. The 2010 revisions jettison the response period altogether, leaving the timing of summary judgment responses up to the dictates of local courts.
Perhaps this change is warranted by the fact that the local district courts already have substantial control over other timing issues. But I always appreciated the fact that motions for summary judgment required their own timetable. It was an acknowledgment that summary judgment was a serious proceeding that required more time to produce a more thoughtful response.
It is likely that the local rules will continue this distinction by setting extended briefing schedules for summary judgment motions. The difference now is that nothing requires them to do so. And leaving more procedural aspects to the whim of local courts tends to undermine the purpose of having a uniform set of procedural rules in the first place.
Be that as it may, the rules will continue their slow but inexorable evolution, and the decision to cut the timeline for responsive filings will either stand or fall on its own merits. I pause only to note the passing of one of the first hard and fast deadlines that I ever learned in my legal career, along with its 2009 progeny. Oh, 21-day deadline, we hardly knew ye.