In the middle of the Florida Bar’s annual meeting, the Florida Supreme Court released an order requiring e-mail service of all documents in almost all Florida cases starting July 1, 2012. [Update: The Florida Supreme Court has entered a corrected opinion changing start date to September 1, 2012]. Nothing like giving us a little notice to put systems in place!
The June 21, 2012 order [available here in .pdf], basically deletes Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.080, and replaces it with a reference to new Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.516. The Court’s order explains:
e-mail service will be mandatory for attorneys practicing in the civil, probate, small claims, and family law divisions of the trial courts, as well as in all appellate cases, when the rule amendments take effect on July 1, 2012.
There are specific rules about how e-mail service must be labeled. The order explains:
e-mail service is made by attaching a copy of the document to be served in PDF format to an e-mail. The e-mail must contain the subject line ―SERVICE OF COURT DOCUMENT in all capital letters, followed by the case number of the relevant proceeding. The body of the e-mail must identify the court in which the proceeding is pending, the case number, the name of the initial party on each side, the title of each document served with that e-mail, and the sender’s name and telephone number. The e-mail and attachments together may not exceed 5 megabytes in size; e-mails that exceed the size requirement must be divided into separate e-mails (no one of which may exceed 5 megabytes) and labeled sequentially in the subject line.
Notably, service by e-mail is treated as service by mail for purposes of calculating time, so everyone will be getting five extra days for service by e-mail added to their response times (under Rule 1.090 for civil cases, and Rule 9.420(e), which was not amended, under the Appellate rules). However, be aware of the following gotcha:
When, in addition to service by e-mail, the sender also utilizes another means of service provided for in subdivision (b)(2), any differing time limits and other provisions applicable to that other means of service control.
RULE 2.516(b)(1) (emphasis added). So, while you must send an e-mail either way, if the person serving the document faxes before 5 pm or hand delivers the document in addition to e-mail, the five “mailing” days disappear.
The New Rule of Judicial Administration also applies to appellate cases, and the Court amended Rule 9.420 to require service by e-mail of all documents except “initiating” documents, which must be filed by BOTH e-mail and U.S. Mail. The relevant new part of Rule 9.420(c) reads:
Service of every document filed in a proceeding governed by these rules (including any briefs, motions, notices, responses, petitions, and appendices) shall be made in conformity with the requirements of Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.516, except that the initial document filed in a proceeding governed by these rules (including any notice to invoke jurisdiction, notice of appeal, or petition for an original writ) shall be served both by e-mail pursuant to rule 2.516(b)(1) and in paper form pursuant to rule 2.516(b)(2).
All practitioners should set up e-mail filters accordingly. I suggest a rule that picks out “SERVICE OF COURT DOCUMENT” from e-mail subject lines and forwards them appropriately. Note, too, that you can designate up to three e-mail addresses for service.
This is but a prelude to the mandatory e-filing that is on tap for later this year, if the Court system can get its act together. The only way to get out of it, if you are an attorney, is to certify that you do not have an e-mail address and lack access to the Internet at your office. Not likely for most attorneys in this day and age. Welcome to the future, folks.
Update: In answer to a question in the comments, see my recent entry entitled Service on and by Pro Se Litigants.