Overworked lawyers of bygone eras could sometimes rely on the transom rule. The rule allowed an attorney to “file” a document first thing in the morning as if the filing occurred the day before. The principle became known as the “transom rule.” With the advent of ECF, the transom rule lost its purpose. But ECF has created its own challenges. In Farley v. Koepp, 14-1695, the Seventh Circuit addresses when a document is considered filed for purposes of statute of limitations purposes when the ECF process goes awry.
Statute of limitations for the plaintiff’s cause of action expired on March 11, 2013. The complaint and cover sheet had been sent to the Clerk’s office on March 9 via email (as required by the local rule). On March 11 (the next business day), plaintiff’s counsel attempted to upload the complaint and pay the required filing fee (consistent with the local rules). But as fate would have it, technology got in the way and neither the complaint nor the filing fee were properly processed until March 12 – one day after the statute of limitations had expired. The district court dismissed the case based on SOL grounds.
The Seventh Circuit reversed. Relying on Fed. R. Civ. P. 3 and 5, the Court held that the complaint was “filed” when it was “delivered” to the court on March 9 via email. The snafus with the ECF were, in the Court’s words, “a defect in form,” and Fed. R. Civ. P. 5(d)(h) prohibits the clerk from refusing “to file a paper solely because it is not in the form prescribed” by the federal or applicable local rules. The Court reiterated that counsel cannot simply disregard the various local rules’ filing requirements. However, in this case, counsel immediately addressed the difficulties created by the ECF system, and “promptly” came into “compliance with local requirements.” While technology has done away with the need for transoms, it has not done away with the need for good ole common sense, which the Court clearly still possesses.