Florida Supreme Court Implements Electronic Filing and Other Rule Changes

The Florida Supreme Court, in a revised Order SC11-399 (Oct. 18, 2012) [.pdf], has adopted a host of rule changes at every court level in order to implement electronic filing and service. The centerpiece of the change to electronic filing are new Florida Rules of Judicial Administration Florida Rules of Judicial Administration 2.520 (Documents) and 2.525 (Electronic Filing). Together, these two rules govern the filing of any document that is a “court record.” Rule 2.520 is the “why,” defining electronic records, and Rule 2.525 is the “how-to”, explaining the nuts and bolts of how to file electronically. So be sure to read both very carefully.

To implement these new system-wide rules, the Court also adopted changes to the rules of civil, criminal, family, probate, small claims, and appellate procedure.

Electronic filing becomes mandatory in civil, probate, small claims, and family law divisions of the trial courts, as well as for appeals to the circuit courts in these categories of cases, on April 1, 2013, at 12:01 a.m. For criminal, traffic, and juvenile divisions of the trial courts, as well as for appeals to the circuit court in these categories of cases, the effective date is October 1, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.

The changes are generally technical, but wide-sweeping. The rules affected include Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure 9.020 (Definitions), 9.110 (Appeal Proceedings to Review Final Orders); 9.120 (Discretionary Proceedings to Review Decisions of District Courts of Appeal); 9.125 (Review of Trial Court Orders and Judgments Certified by the District Courts of Appeal as Requiring Immediate Resolution by the Supreme Court); 9.130 (Proceedings to Review Non-Final Orders and Specific Final Orders); 9.140 (Appeal Proceedings in Criminal Cases); RULE 9.141. (Review Proceedings in Collateral or Postconviction Criminal Cases); RULE 9.142. (Procedures for REview in Death Penalty Cases); RULE 9.145 (Appeal Proceedings in Juvenile Delinquency Cases); RULE 9.146. (Appeal Proceedings in Juvenile Dependency and Termination of Parental Rights Cases); RULE 9.160. (Discretionary Proceedings to Review Decisions of County Courts); 9.180 (Appeal Proceedings to Review Workers’ Compensation Cases); 9.200 (the Record); 9.210 (Briefs); 9.220 (Appendix); 9.360 (Joinder); 9.500 (Advisory Opinions to the Governor); 9.510 (advisory Opinions to Attorney General); 9.900 (forms).

I encourage every practicing attorney to read SC11-399 very carefully. The most unfortunate change, in my view, is that the Court renumbered the definition of Rendition, from 9.020(h) to 9.020(i). The new 9.020(h) could easily have been put at the end, but now practitioners must be aware to both cite to the correct new subdivision when citing the rule on rendition, and to research both the old and the new numbering system when conducting research. I don’t see why adding such confusion over an already high-confusion area of the rules was really necessary.

Dated versus Filed versus Entered

In federal court, several important (and jurisdictional) post-trial deadlines are keyed off of the “entry of judgment.” For example, a motion for a new trial “must be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of judgment,” as must a motion to alter or amend a judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 59. And a notice of appeal “must be filed with the district clerk within 30 days after the judgment or order appealed from is entered.” See Fed. R. App. P. 4. Even though Fed. R. App. P. 4 and Fed. R. Civ. P. 58 go out of their way to explain what it means for an item to be “entered,” there can still be confusion when an order granting summary judgment is dated differently from the separate document entering judgment — or worse, when the the docket reflects that the item is “signed” one day, “filed” another day, and the docket entry was made on yet a third day.

The Judgment is a Separate Document

Three important practice tips. First, it is the entry of the separate judgment, not the date of the memorandum or order, that controls “entry of judgment” where the order is one that requires a separate document under rule 58. In re Southeast Bank Corp., 97 F.3d 476, 478 (11th Cir. 1996). In Southeast Bank, the judgment was entered on one date, and the opinion was docketed three days later. The Eleventh Circuit stated that the date of the entry of the final judgment – not the entry of a trial court’s memorandum opinion in support of summary judgment – was the operative date for determining the timeliness of a motion to alter or amend the judgment, and therefore held that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to entertain such a motion that was filed the appropriate number of days after the memorandum opinion was filed. So make sure you are looking at the right document when calculating your deadlines.

Entry is the Key

Second, the date of entry of the judgment is controlling — not the date it is file stamped, listed as filed, or signed. Jones v. Gann, 703 F.2d 513 (11th Cir. 1983)(“The time for filing a notice of appeal begins to run not on the date that the judgment is filed but on the date the judgment is actually entered on the docket.”)(emphasis added). As the Southern District of Florida has explained, “an entry is not effective until it is actually placed on the docket sheet.” National Sav. Bank of Albany v. Jefferson Bank, 127 F.R.D. 218 (S.D. Fla. 1989). While ideally “the entry date would always coincide with the file stamp date, thereby automatically notifying the parties of the entry date and obviating the need for the parties to inquire as to the entry date,” that is not always the case. Thus, for purposes of calculating deadlines, “an order is ‘entered’ not when it is signed by the judge, nor when it is ‘filed’ (i.e., file stamped), but rather when it is actually recorded on the docket sheet.” Id.

No mailing days

Third, the operative phrase is “entry of judgment,” not service. It doesn’t matter if you were never served the judgment, many courts will charge you with knowledge of the docket. And because it is “entry”, not “service” the deadlines are not affected by the three day grace period for actions “within a specified time after service” allowe by Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(d).

The moral of the story is that one must calculate post trial deadlines very, very carefully. When in doubt, file early.

All Digital in the First DCA

Florida District Courts of Appeal Map Today’s the day that electronic filing by the clerks of court and court reporters becomes mandatory. As previously discussed, this means that the clerks of court and agencies within the First DCA — which encompases the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 8th and 14th Circuits — now must transmit their certified copies of the Notice of Appeal and more the record electronically. The Notice of Appeal procedure isn’t too onerous, but I don’t look forward to the delay I envision as the trial court clerks get used to preparing an electronic record on appeal. Great job to the panhandle for leading the way into the 21st century for the Florida intermediate appellate courts.