A blog on practice in the Nation’s second-most powerful court

Evading Creatively accommodating the D.C. Circuit’s word limits

Well, this is a new one—to us at least. 

Four years ago, the Federal Rules of Appellate procedure lowered the number of words allowed in an opening brief from 14,000 to 13,000.  For reply briefs, the limit dropped from 7,000 to 6,500.  Unlike some other circuits (e.g., the Ninth Circuit), the D.C. Circuit went along with this change.

A brief recently filed in the D.C. Circuit attempts to evade—or perhaps we should say, creatively accommodate—the 13,000-word limit by transforming a three-word party name in a repeatedly used citation to a single word. 

How is that possible?  By inserting an underscore between the words:

Jane_Smith_Co. v. Brown

Evidently Microsoft Word accepted this solution, according to the certificate of compliance.  And the brief was accepted for filing. 

But it will be interesting to see whether the panel comments on this device. 

After all, the D.C. Circuit Handbook is adamant about length limitations—and specifically condemns “evasion” of length limitations:

  • Evasion of the length limitations may result in the Court’s rejection of the brief.
  • Briefs may not exceed the word, line, or page limitations set forth in the Federal and Circuit Rules absent the Court’s permission.
  • If the brief exceeds the page, line, or word limitations, the party will be directed to submit either a corrected brief or a motion for leave to exceed the limits on length.
  • Parties wishing to submit a brief that exceeds the length limitations must, not less than 7 days before the brief is due, file a motion requesting permission to exceed the length limitations. Such motions are granted only for extraordinarily compelling reasons.

Now, we certainly agree that underscoring makes the caption easier to read than, say, cramming all the words together:  JaneSmithCo

And there are plainly worse offenses.  Still, we might have opted instead for simply using the first word:  Jane.  Or finding cuts elsewhere.

N.B.  We’ve made the case name generic to protect counsel’s identity.