Monday, May 20, 2013
Sixth Circuit Tackles Electronic Filing Typos
Everyone who does enough paperwork has surely made a mistake at some point. The wrong key was entered or the wrong box was checked. Thankfully, most typos are harmless and can either be quickly remedied or ignored. Unfortunately, when you work as a criminal defense attorney and you make a typo on an electronic filing system, it’s possible that the consequences could be much more grave.
In the case Shuler v. Garrett, the Sixth Circuit dealt with a case where an attorney made a very small mistake on an electronic court filing. The question that the Sixth Circuit was left to grapple with was whether or not the technical error could cause the attorney’s client to lose his right to appeal.
In the case, the defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s appeal as untimely after the plaintiff’s attorney made a technical mistake while electronically filing a Rule 59 motion to appeal or amend the judgment. The standard rule says that a notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days of the entry of a judgment, but that this period can be extended if a party files a Rule 59 motion in time.
In the case, the attorney accidently entered the wrong docket information into the system when electronically filing the motion for her client. As a result of the mistake, the motion was listed under the docket of a different case. By the time the lawyer realized her mistake, the time had run out and the filing was now late.
The attorney in the case waited until the last day to file the motion, perhaps unnecessarily stretching the deadline to its breaking point. However, as the attorney argued, using the electronic case filing system can be a time consuming process which explained some of the delay in getting the motion filed.
The Sixth Circuit examined how other circuits have handled similar issues and noted that the Seventh Circuit found that a complaint filed under the wrong docket number was timely. The Court also mentioned that had the forms been filed on paper, the incorrect docket number would likely have been detected and the motion would not have been deemed untimely.
The Court said that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure plainly state that clerks shall not refuse to accept filings solely because they are not presented in proper form. Given this, the Court found that the motion should be considered timely and that the client should not be punished for an electronic filing error on the part of their attorneys. The Sixth Circuit said that electronic filing typos should not hold your client back so long as the motion itself was filed within the proper time limits.
To read the full opinion, click here.