eCourt is available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Convenient? Absolutely! But with convenience comes risk.
Tempted by the generous schedule, it is easy to form the habit of postponing filing until shortly before midnight on the day the filing is due.
While far from ideal, last-minute filing will succeed if your document is accepted. But therein lies the trap. Acceptance is not instantaneous. It may take one to three court days before the clerk processes your document. What happens if the statute of limitations expires during this time?
If you receive notice that your filing was rejected after the statute of limitations has run, your only hope is to request relation back. Beyond strict compliance with the rules – which lay out a detailed scheme for resubmitting your filing and seeking relation back – there are other nuances in play. Handling relation back correctly means your client’s case goes forward. Mishandling relation back may result in a legal malpractice claim.
To understand what is at stake, and the specific steps you need to take, let’s begin by reviewing the filing process:
When is a Filing Accepted?
As noted above, eCourt filings are not automatically accepted when submitted. Every filing is reviewed by a court clerk:
- If the court accepts the document for filing, the date and time of filing entered in the register relate back to the date and time the electronic filing system received the document. When the court accepts the document, the electronic filing system will affix the date and time of submission on the document, thereby indicating the date and time of filing of the document. UTCR 21.080(4).
- If the court rejects a document submitted electronically for filing, the electronic filing system will send an email to the filer that explains why the court rejected the document, unless the filer has elected through system settings not to receive the email. The email will include a hyperlink to the document. UTCR 21.080(5).
Resubmitting a Rejected Filing
If you receive notice that your filing has been rejected after the statute or deadline is expired, follow UTCR 21.080(5)(a) to the letter. Correcting your original filing mistake and resubmitting your document is not enough to receive relation back.
To apply for relation-back to the original filing date, follow these steps:
- Diagnose and fix your filing error. The rejection notice issued by the electronic filing system will explain why the court rejected your document.
- Resubmit the document within 3 days of the date of rejection. If the third day following rejection is not a judicial day, then resubmit the filing the next judicial day. Resubmission means submission of the document through the electronic filing system or physical delivery of the document to the court. UTCR 21.080(5)(a).
- Include a cover letter with your resubmitted filing that contains the following information:
- the date of the original submission
- the date of the rejection
- an explanation of the reason you are requesting the date of filing to relate back to the original submission
- include the words “RESUBMISSION OF REJECTED FILING, RELATION-BACK DATE OF FILING REQUESTED” in the subject line of your cover letter. UTCR 21.080(5)(a)(i).
- If your resubmission is filed electronically the words “RESUBMISSION OF REJECTED FILING, RELATION-BACK DATE OF FILING REQUESTED” must also be included in the Filing Comments Field. UTCR 21.080(5)(a)(ii).
If you apply for relation back and realize that you did not fully comply with UTCR 21.080(5)(a), what should you do? If you are within the three day window for resubmission, there is no harm in trying again. The rule does not limit filers to a single resubmission attempt. Resubmit your filing a second time, with the proper cover letter and required information in the filing comments field. Be aware that getting relation back – even when you meet the technical requirements set forth in UTCR 21.080(5) – is within the court’s discretion and not guaranteed. While every effort is made to ensure uniform application of the rules, practices may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Furthermore, responding parties may object to a request for relation back within the time limits as provided by law for the type of document being filed. UTCR 21.080(5)(b).
These are important points for eFilers to grasp. Even if you fully and timely comply with UTCR 21.080(5), getting relation back is not an automatic right. Your best defense is to do it right the first time and follow the tips at the end of this article.
There is one other basis for requesting relation back. If the eFiling system is temporarily unavailable or if an error in the transmission of the document or other technical problem prevents the eFiling system from receiving a document, the court may, upon satisfactory proof, permit relation back. UTCR 21.080(6).
A filer seeking relation back due to “technical difficulties” must follow the same steps as any other filer resubmitting a rejected filing. (See the steps described above in Resubmitting a Rejected Filing.) In addition, the filer is permitted to attach supporting exhibits that substantiate the system malfunction.
PRACTICE TIP: Slightly different language is required in the cover letter and filing comments field if relation back is sought under UTCR 21.080(6): “RESUBMISSION OF REJECTED FILING, SUBMISSION UNSUCCESSFUL, RELATION-BACK DATE OF FILING REQUESTED.”
CAVEAT: Technical problems with the filer’s equipment or attempted transmission within the filer’s control will not generally excuse an untimely filing.
What If Relation Back is Denied?
If relation back is denied, contact the claims attorneys at the Professional Liability Fund.
Staying Out of Trouble
Avoid falling into the relation-back malpractice trap by following these tips:
- Read Chapter 21 of the Uniform Trial Court Rules. Monitor amendments, a number of which have been adopted out-of-cycle.
- Review the eCourt resources and practice aids available on the Professional Liability Fund website. Select Practice Management, then Forms, and under “Filtered by Category,” choose “eCourt.” [Or search this blog for eCourt posts.]
- Read “The Nuts and Bolts of Oregon eCourt,” and “Zero Tolerance for e-Filing Error,” by yours truly in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin.
- Attend eCourt CLEs and training sessions.
- Seek advice from colleagues with eFiling experience.
- Call the Professional Liability Fund if a filing mishap occurs.
[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]