If your legal assistant or paralegal physically picked up a court order from your mailbox and accidently dropped it in a wastebasket, you couldn't reasonably expect any relief for the consequences of any resulting missed deadlines or failure to comply with the order.
Likewise, if your computer server electronically received an emailed notice or order and then erroneously tossed it out without ever notifying you or keeping a record of the transmission, you should not expect any relief because of that technological hiccup--especially if you had been warned your system was unreliable.
That was the finding of a panel of judges on the First District Court of Appeal in a recent case in which a law firm sought relief after it missed a deadline for appealing an order for its client to pay attorneys' fees in an eminent domain case.
The Bar's Practice Resource Institute has posted an item on its blog about the decision with advice for law firms, and the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section also has published an article on its website.
"[M]any of the problems and decisions that were made were ones that small- to mid-size firms and companies face," Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell attorneys Steve Berlin, Justin Guido, and Jacey Kaps wrote in the PRI blog. "[T]here are issues with technology that firms and their clients must understand."
According to the opinion, which was released August 10, the parties had filed motions over attorneys' fees and then waited more than a year for the judge's order. The appellee attorney suggested the two sides schedule a case management conference, but the appellant law firm rejected that suggestion. The appellees filed a motion for a status conference, but the order was issued before that occurred.
The order was sent from the local clerk of court's computer system to both a primary and secondary email address for the appellant attorneys. According to various experts who testified, if the clerk's computer had failed to deliver the emailed order to the appellant firm's server, an error message would have been generated and returned to the clerk. There was no record showing the email had not been accepted. In addition, the firm had been warned its spam software could receive and then delete legitimate emails without leaving a record. The firm had been advised to get a backup system to log those emails, but the firm rejected that because it would cost $700 to $1,200 annually.
Thirty days after the order, the appellee's...