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May 6, 2010

New Issues Raised By Electronic Filing

As more courts adopt mandatory electronic filing of court documents, they are going to have to deal with the legal implications of problems and glitches that will inevitably arise with such systems.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals recently dealt with one such issue in Vince v. Rock County, Wis., No. 10-1659 (7th Cir. May 3, 2010).

Scot Vince sued after he was "severely beaten" and "strangled" by a fellow inmate in 2008.  A magistrate judge granted summary judgment to the defendants, holding that the named defendants could not be held liable for the assault.

Vance's attorney filed an appeal on the last day of the appeals period, using the Western District of Wisconsin's mandatory electronic filing system. But the appeal was entered into the system with the wrong "event code."  When court personnel brought this to the attorney's attention, he re-filed the appeal on the system four days later, with the correct code.

The question for the court was whether the appeal was timely, despite the mistake.  The court held that it was.  "Counsel's failure to electronically transmit Vince's notice of appeal with the proper event code was an error of form ...," and not consequential, the court held.  It then added:

There may well be cases in which a filing is so riddled with errors that it cannot fairly be considered a notice of appeal, and therefore its filing, electronic or otherwise, will not vest an appellate court with jurisdiction, ... but that is not the case here.  We conclude that Vince's appeal is timely. Counsel practicing in the federal courts today would be well advised to pay close attention to their electronic transmissions, so that errors in electronic filing do not adversely affect one of their cases. Otherwise, counsel may find that "`a computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history—with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila' ", as Judge Aldisert observed in Carelock, 459 F.3d at 443 (citation omitted), quoting a not so old adage.

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