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Sixth Circuit: E-Filing Error Does Not Make Appeal Untimely

By Corey Licht, Esq. on May 09, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We all make typos. Most of the time, it's no big deal. While a typo in an email between friends is harmless, a typo on a resume or a cover letter can be devastating. It's all about the context.

So what happens when a typo causes you to miss an important filing deadline? Can a technical error in an electronic filing jeopardize your client's right to appeal? The answer is "no," according to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a question of first impression, the appellate court determined this week that clients shouldn't be punished for an electronic filing error on the part of their attorneys.

The defendant in Shuler v. Garrett moved to dismiss the plaintiff's appeal as untimely after the plaintiff's attorney made a technical error while electronically filing a Rule 59 motion to appeal or amend the judgment. While a notice of appeal typically must be filed within 30 days of the entry of a judgment, the period can be tolled if a party files a timely Rule 59 motion.

In Schuler, the plaintiff's counsel accidentally entered erroneous docket information into the system when electronically filing her client's motion. As a result, the motion was listed under the docket of a different case. When she realized her mistake, the plaintiff's lawyer notified the ECF with the corrections and a copy of the motion. However, by the time the corrections were made, the period had run.

While the attorney here did wait until the last day to file the motion, she's not entirely to blame for the predicament. As you probably know, the Electronic Case Filing (ECF) system used in every Circuit involves a pretty convoluted process. Entries into the ECF system can't be edited or deleted. Instead, an updated or corrected docket entry must be added.

In reaching its decision, the Sixth Circuit Court examined the decisions of fellow U.S. Circuit Courts that had tackled the issue. In Farzana v. Indiana Department of Education, the Seventh Circuit held that a complaint filed under the wrong docket number was timely, even though the computer in the case rejected the filing because of the incorrect docket number. The court noted that had the complaint been filed in a traditional paper-and-ink filing system, the incorrect docket number would not have made the complaint untimely.

The Sixth Circuit court also looked at the text of Rule 5(d)(4) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which states that a "clerk shall not refuse to accept for filing any paper presented for the purpose solely because it is not presented in proper form." The court held that under the rule, the plaintiff's motion would be considered timely filed.

Typo-prone lawyers can breathe a sigh of relief. As long as the motion is filed on time, an electronic filing error won't hold your client back.

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