“This is a cautionary tale for every attorney who litigates in the era of e-filing.”
So begins the Fifth Circuit opinion by James Ho, issued August 9, 2021, in the case of Rollins v. Home Depot. Home Depot moved for summary judgment right before the deadline for dispositive motions. The plaintiff’s lawyer’s law firm email system placed the notification of the filing in a folder that the lawyer did not regularly monitor. All other court notice emails had gone to the main email box, which was regularly monitored. For reasons unknown, the law firm system placed this one notice in a different folder. The lawyer did not see the motion for summary judgment and did not respond to it. The trial court therefore granted the motion.
The lawyer lost a motion to alter or amend under FRCP 59(3), and the Fifth Circuit affirmed. The Fifth Circuit pointed out that the motion was filed at the appropriate time—prior to the deadline for dispositive motions. The court was not swayed by the fact that the parties had been in settlement negotiations after the filing of the motion, and the lawyer who filed the summary judgment motion conveniently failed to mention the pending motion during the ongoing discussions. The email problem came from the plaintiff’s attorney’s email system, and the attorney failed to check the court docket. There was thus no manifest error in refusing to alter or amend the judgment.
This is indeed a warning for attorneys who rely on emailed court notices. Don’t. Instead, check the court docket, because if you miss a response date, that failure will likely not be forgiven, at least not in the Fifth Circuit.
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