Mandatory e-filing in the California Supreme Court is imminent – learn the rules!

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The California Supreme Court adopted voluntary e-filing this summer, but e-filing will become mandatory on September 1, 2017. The court uses the TrueFiling system, which I have found to be rather user-friendly.

The Supreme Court’s e-filing rules are available in PDF format on the court’s website, and they are extensive. Some highlights: [Added 9/6/17: do not rely on this summary to ensure your compliance with the rules. Reference the rules on the court’s website, which may change form time to time without such changes being noted in this blog post.]

♦E-filing becomes mandatory on September 1, 2017, even for cases initiated prior to that date. (Rule 3(b).)

♦As in many other courts, self-represented litigants are exempted from mandatory e-filing. (Rule 4(a)(1).) But attorneys may also seek an exemption. (Rules 3(a), 6.) I am hard-pressed, though, to imagine how an attorney would meet one of the stated grounds for exemption: undue hardship, significant prejudice, or infeasibility. (Rule 6(b).) Perhaps the unavailability of a broadband internet connection would render e-filing infeasible?

♦[Added 9/6/17: the rules for paper copies have already been modified. See the 9/6/17 update below.] Two bound paper copies of documents must still be provided in civil and non-death penalty cases, and quite promptly (sent by means reasonably calculated to reach the court by the close of business the second court day after the electronic filing, and only one day after filing in cases requesting an immediate stay). (Rule 5(a).) That is a disappointment, but there is still far less paper to handle than there is with paper filings. In a death penalty case, the filer only has to send in one paper copy, has more time to send it, and does not have to bind it. (Rule 5(b).)

♦PDF documents must have bookmarks to separate sections, argumentative headings, etc. (Rule 10(a)(3).) Though the rules do not appear to require it, it is probably a good idea to format each heading in your table of contents with a hyperlink to the corresponding page in the document, as the Fifth District Court of Appeal requires.

I find the rules ambiguous in one respect. Rule 3(a)(1) lists one category of documents that must be filed electronically:

Documents in proceedings under rules 8.500-8.552 [of the California Rules of Court]
All documents filed before the court issues its decision to grant or deny review, including:

[enumerated documents]

(Italics in original, bold added.) Even though rules 8.500-8.552 of the California Rules of Court cover proceedings subsequent to a grant of review and all the way through issuance of the remittitur, Rule 3(a)(1) appears to require electronic filing only for the documents filed prior to the grant of review. Under this strict reading of the rules, briefs on the merits do not appear subject to mandatory e-filing, which seems like an odd omission. Why reference all of those rules if e-filing is mandatory for documents filed pursuant to only some of them? It is important to resolve the ambiguity, because a filer may electronically file only those documents specifically identified in the rules (Rule 2), unless otherwise ordered by the court (Rule 3(a)(3)). In other words, e-filing is either mandatory or prohibited for a given document. Perhaps there is a standing order that covers this under Rule 3(a)(3), but it seems odd not to make it explicit in the e-filing rules themselves. [Added 8/21/17: briefs on the merits and other post-grant filings appear to be deliberately omitted from e-filing. See the update below.]

Regular readers know I am not a fan of reading legal documents on a screen. But e-filing sure makes filing easier, and also makes it easier to keep my office organized.

Still, electronic filing could be improved by some uniformity. Some is on the way, such as the anticipation that all districts of the Court of Appeal will have e-filing through TrueFiling implemented by November of this year. It could also be improved be eliminating the need for any paper copies, including copies served on subordinate courts. E-filing in the Court of Appeal has long satisfied the requirement of service on the Supreme Court, and the uniform use of TrueFiling this November should make it possible to e-serve any Court of Appeal with documents e-filed in the Supreme Court. Electronic service on superior courts statewide would be nice. Electronic service on subordinate courts would be even nicer if it happened automatically upon e-filing in the filing court.

Update (8/21/17): The ambiguity regarding post-grant documents kept gnawing at me, so I asked a few colleagues what they thought, which led me to last June’s news release about the Supreme Court’s adoption of e-filing. It says in part:

The court will adopt detailed eFiling Rules in June and remain open to opportunities to enhance the program in the coming year. The court will employ a phased approach to the launch of its eFiling program.

That suggests this is a “grow as we go” implementation, and that my reading is correct: for now, briefs on the merits and other post-grant documents, as well as documents in writ proceedings, cannot be e-filed.  They may be submitted electronically, but the electronic submission is in addition to required paper filing copies, not a substitute for them.

Update (9/6/17): Some of the rules have already been modified. Notably, the requirements for submitting paper copies (Rule 5) have been relaxed.  Whether a death penalty case or not, only a single, unbound paper copy is required, and it need no longer reach the court within two court days; depositing the copy in the mail or with a common carrier within two court days of filing now suffices, unless the filing party is seeking a stay, in which case the paper copy must reach the court “by the close of business the next court day after the document is filed electronically.”

There may have been other changes, but I do not have the original version of the rules against which to check the current version. As always,. rely on the official rules, not the commentary in this blog post.

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