Court of Appeals uses equity to back-date filing in "unique and specific circumstances"

Mollie Pawlosky Iowa Banking Law Iowa Commercial Litigation Law Dickinson Law Des Moines Iowa

Posted on 01/18/2016 at 04:00 PM by Mollie Pawlosky

In Ewing Concrete v. Rochon Corporation, No. 14-1628 (Iowa Court of App. Jan. 13, 2016), the Iowa Court of Appeals deemed that a petition, which was electronically filed on May 9, 2014, should be deemed filed on April 30, 2014. This was the second Iowa appellate case addressing chapter 16, Rules Pertaining to the use of the Electronic Document Management System (EDMS).

In the first, Concerned Citizens of Se Polk Cty. Sch. Dist. v. City Dev. Bd., ___ N.W.2d ___, 2015 WL 8526410, at *2 (Iowa 2015), the Iowa Supreme Court dismissed an appeal because the appellant failed to file its notice of appeal within thirty days of when the order appealed from was electronically filed. In Ewing Concrete, the deadline for the plaintiff to file its petition was no later than midnight on April 30, 2014. On April 30, at 4:29:48 p.m., counsel for Ewing attempted to file a petition through EDMS. At 4:35 p.m., EDMS responded with an email, confirming payment had been received. Ewing, however, did not receive an email confirming receipt of the petition. On May 8, 2014, the office manager for Ewing's attorney forwarded the payment-confirmation e-mail to the EDMS support provider, who replied: We are dutifully researching this as I type and will get back to [you] ASAP once we know more.

Thereafter, EDMS accepted Ewing's petition in equity, and the petition was file-stamped May 9, 2014. Ewing's new counsel filed an application to reset filing date for petition, alleging the EDMS system unexpectedly went down at 4:38 p.m. and remained offline until 7:13 p.m. The application also alleged the EDMS system at that point should have process[ed] this petition. The district court ruled that deeming Ewing's filing to have occurred on April 30, 2014, although perhaps equitable, was not the result provided in rule 16.311. Pursuant to the rule, The notice of electronic filing will record the date and time of the filing of the document in local time for the State of Iowa. This will be the official filing date and time of the document regardless of when the filer actually transmitted the document. 

Thus, the court concluded that the filing date was May 9, 2014. Ewing sought interlocutory appeal. Ewing claimed because its original attorney did not receive any notice that the system was down, the court should have deemed the petition filed on April 30. Ewing claimed that if such notice had been received, counsel could have filed after the technical problem resolved.

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding, We note the district court's language shows recognition of the harshness of its ruling.We also note the difficulties in this case were not caused by either party but by a malfunction of the EDMS system in accepting Ewing's payment for filing the petition but not accepting the actual petition. Because EDMS is a totally new filing process for the entire court system, because our supreme court is still in the process of taking comment on and developing the court's final EDMS rules, and because there is a lack of supreme court precedent to guide our resolution, we conclude an attorney who received notice in April 2014 that EDMS had accepted payment for the filing of a petition could reasonably believe the petition itself had been filed, especially when the notice contained the language referencing petition.pdf. and no notice of the system being down was generated. Thus, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. Presiding Judge Vogel, however, dissented.

Although sympathetic to Ewing's position, Judge Vogel found that the majority was shifting the responsibility of ensuring a proper filing from the user to the system. Simply put, that approach overlooks the responsibility of the person using the EDMS system to verify any filing. It would not be excused in the paper world and should not be in the electronic world. In reciting the facts, Judge Vogel noted that Ewing's counsel did not verify the status of the submitted documents, despite the fact that no notice of electronic filing had been sent to him via email. Judge Vogel reasoned, "[I]n order for Ewing's petition to be considered timely, there had to be a technical failure of the system that prevented the filing and the document needed to be filed using the soonest available electronic or nonelectronic means.

After the system was back online, Ewing had five hours to file. Because counsel failed to verify his filing, he knew not of the problems until several days later. Judge Vogel simply does not agree that counsel had satisfied his responsibility to make certain the petition had been filed, either by having received a notice of electronic filing or by checking the EDMS website to verify the petition contained an electronic file stamp. Counsel's failure to ensure the document was properly filed would not be an excuse in the paper world, nor should it be in the electronic world,she concludes. Because counsel failed to comply with the rules, Judge Vogel would have affirmed the trial court.

Litigants attempting to process the appellate courts' holdings regarding chapter 16 rules may have some problems reconciling Concerned Citizens and Ewing Concrete. In general terms, one opinion seems to strictly interpret the rules, whereas the other reads the rules more liberally. However, of note are the points identified by the Ewing Concrete majority: the Iowa Supreme Court is still finalizing the chapter 16 rules, and there is virtually no precedent interpreting the rules. In this context, the most prudent course of practice is to monitor appellate authority to watch the body of law develop, and to monitor as the chapter 16 rules are finalized. For questions regarding Ewing Concrete v. Rochon Corporation, or regarding commercial litigation in Iowa, contact Mollie Pawlosky.

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