Avoiding Common Pitfalls in Federal Court: Central District’s Time Limit for Court Decisions  

In law school, all of us lawyers remember learning the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, known as the “FRCP.” But we didn’t understand how District Courts have their own Local Rules, which can differ from FRCP and, if missed, can cause headaches or migraines for lawyers. Take, for example, the Central District of California’s Local Rule 83-9, titled “Time Limits for Decisions by Court.” In a nutshell, it mandates that the Court will issue a decision on motions within 120 days after the matter is submitted for a decision. One hundred twenty days seem like a long time. Not for Federal judges who hear criminal and civil matters and are busier than ever post-COVID. 

Under this Local Rule, not only is the Court required to issue a ruling on a motion in 120 days, but the lawyers are required to follow a detailed and strict procedure should there be no ruling in 120 days. First, let’s discuss what submitting a matter under this Local Rule means. “A motion shall be deemed submitted for decision (i) on the date the Court announces on the record in open Court, after the hearing thereon, that the matter is submitted for decision; or (ii) on the date the last memorandum or other document is permitted to be filed. If no oral argument is conducted on the motion, a motion shall be deemed submitted for decision as the date the last memorandum or other pleading is permitted to be filed.” L.R. 83-9.1.1(a). Federal Courts often will not have a hearing and decide solely on the papers. Under this Local Rule, the submission date is not when the Court issues a notice on ECF that the motion is under submission, but earlier than that, upon the last paper being filed by either party.  

Okay, so why does this matter, and how is it the lawyer’s problem? Well, “[i]f the Court does not issue a decision on a submitted matter within 120 days of submission, all counsel shall, within 130 days after the matter is submitted for decision, file with the Court a joint request that a decision be made without further delay.” L.R. 83-9.2. Yes, you read that right. If the Court does not issue a ruling, the lawyers must remind it to do so,  jointly  no less and within just ten days after 120 days of submission passes. Moreover, a copy of the joint request must be sent to the Chief Judge.  

What is supposed to happen after the lawyers submit a joint request? “Unless the Court makes its decision within 30 days after filing a joint request, it shall, within the same period, advise the parties in writing of the date by which the decision will be made. A copy of such written advice shall be filed in the case and sent to the Chief Judge.” L.R. 83-9.3. In other words, the Court should give the lawyers some response following the submission of a joint request – whether it be the decision itself or an indication of when a decision will be made.  

What if nothing happens after a joint request is submitted? Central District Local Rules put the onus back on the lawyers. “If the Court fails to make its decision timely or to advise the parties of an intended decision date… counsel shall then file a joint request with the Chief Judge to establish an intended decision date.” L.R. 83-9.4. Yes, you read that right too. The lawyers are required to report the lack of decision to the boss – the Chief Judge. “Upon receipt of a request under L.R. 83-9.4, the Chief Judge shall, after consultation with the judge to whom the matter is assigned, establish a firm intended decision date by which the Court’s decision shall be made.” L.R. 83-9.5. 

Federal Court can be daunting, but requiring that lawyers tell Federal Judges when they take too long to rule on a motion is a bit intimidating, especially if it is your motion that you are waiting for a decision on. What should you do if four months have passed without a ruling on your motion? First, whenever you file a motion in Federal Court, set reminders for the deadlines under L.R. 83-9. When 120 days hit, send the opposing lawyer the joint request under L.R. 83-9.2 and clarify that all  counsel must submit a common request. Copy and paste the Local Rule verbatim in your conferral email to them if you have to. If the opposing lawyer refuses or delays and the 130-day mark is fast approaching, file the joint request unilaterally, along with a footnote or even a declaration of your attempt to confer with the opposing lawyer. When I have filed a joint request per this Local Rule, I have made sure the joint request cites directly to the Local Rule and included words such as “humbly” and “respectfully,” so the Court knows I am not doing this to be a nuisance or pushy but instead submitting the request per its own rules. If there is still nothing from the Court within 30 days after you submit a joint request, go through the same procedure: 

  •  Send a joint request under L.R.83-9.4 for the Chief Judge to opposing counsel. 
  •  Confer with opposing counsel and make a record of it if they refuse to take part. 
  •  File it unilaterally if you have to note your attempt to confer with opposing counsel. 

Following a request directly to the Chief Judge, some notice or even the decision should be heading your way soon.  

I have personally had this issue a few times, and by the first joint request, a ruling is typically issued by the Court. Again, Federal Judges are busy, especially now that they are handling a backlog of cases that have not been heard since 2020, in addition to cases being filed daily. It is improbable the Judge is ignoring you or not taking your case seriously. Just remember to set these deadlines on your calendar with others when you file a motion in the Central District. Be realistic with your client that the Judge has up to 120 days to issue a ruling, and be ready to politely and professionally remind the Court to do so under Local Rule 83-9.2 if it comes to that.  

Author: Daniel Kalinowski 

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