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November 2009
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October 2010

Living with Electronic Court Filing (ECF)

I recently had a case utilizing ECF in which I never received the email notice announcing the Court's ruling on my pending motion for summary judgment.  Three weeks later, I checked the docket for another reason, and found that the Court had granted my motion.  I went back and double-checked to see if somehow I just missed it.  It wasn't in my inbox, or in my trash folder, or in a junk mail folder.  I've got the court whitelisted for purposes of third party spam filtering service, so it couldn't have been that.  Plus, I had set up the ECF in this court so my secretary would also get a copy of any electronic notices sent out by the Court, and she also denied ever getting the notice.  So I ultimately concluded that there was some kind of anomaly which caused the electronic notice not to arrive in my inbox. 

This was a wake-up call not to blindly trust in the effectiveness of this technology.  I had a conversation with my secretary about this, and about the need to have a system to regularly monitor the electronic dockets sheets of cases where critical events are happening. 

With that as the background, I recently saw a blog post from Oregon which discussed a 4th Circuit decision which "upheld the dismissal of a wrongful termination case when the plaintiff’s lawyer failed to respond to a Motion for Summary Judgment served by e-mail."  I feel some chagrin to learn of a 4th Circuit case from an Oregon blog.  But mainly I feel the chilling realization that yes, we really do need a system to make sure we regularly monitor the electronic dockets of the cases we are in.

Here's some of what the 4th Circuit has to say about this:

Accordingly, because Appellant’s counsel was willfully blind to whether the opposing side had filed a dispositive motion,  . . . . we cannot say that the district court

abused its discretion in declining to vacate its judgment to prevent "manifest injustice. Importantly, in doing so we do not, as our good colleague in dissent suggests, sponsor and apply a general duty to monitor dockets. Rather, we conclude that counsel cannot make the calculated choice to take no action with respect to his electronic inaccessibility — by neither informing the court or the parties, nor by simply ascertaining from the court as to whether dispositive motions were filed when due — and then avail himself of discretionary relief from the consequences of that choice.