Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First Circuit excuses the failure to e-file through ECF

The legal profession is slowly becoming a paperless profession, as courts are requiring lawyers to e-file their legal documents. We call this ECF filing. The point is that the Courthouse should not be clogged with voluminous filing cabinets which are bursting at the seams. But some courts and judges still want the hard copy of your legal filings. What happens if you forget to e-file, or you do it too late? Can the case be dismissed over this? Don't laugh. It actually happened.

This case is out of the First Circuit. The case is Velazquez-Linares v. United States, decided on November 10. The plaintiff filed her "paper complaint", but she did not electronically file it fast enough. The judge dismissed the complaint because of this! The court also sanctioned the lawyer in the amount of $150.00. Under the court's local rules, "Standing Order No. 1" states that "parties shall promptly provide the Clerk with electronic copies of all documents previously provided in paper form." The lawyer objected to dismissal, explaining that his computer had malfunctioned. The judge said the lawyer waited too long to fix this problem.

The First Circuit reinstated the lawsuit. The Court of Appeals noted that the rules required "prompt" electronic filing, but it was unclear what "prompt" means, and the trial court could have set a firm deadline. In addition, the government-defendant did not suffer any harm by the late e-filing. The First Circuit reasoned: "In the peculiar circumstances of this case, we hold that the district court read the standing order too inflexibly and acted outside the realm of its discretion in dismissing the action and imposing a monetary sanction without first affording the plaintiff notice and a brief opportunity to cure."

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