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Once upon a time lawyers used to watch the clock, calculate driving distances, and predict traffic while finishing court filings. Not long ago, lawyers had to physically deliver pleadings to the court clerk before they locked the office door.

Now most of the filings for state and federal courts are done online. Lawyers can log in to a state or federal filing system from anywhere in the country. Once logged in, lawyers can file at any time including after hours or on weekends. Electronic filing has become a standard practice of courts and lawyers across the country. One big exception has been the filing of a notice of appeal in Alabama.

Hard Copies Only, Please.

Until recently, in Alabama, the Notice of Appeal could only be filed in paper. Since the Notice of Appeal begins an appeal, one could not begin until a physical copy is actually delivered to the court clerk. In some appeals there are only 14 days to file the notice, like some cases from probate or juvenile court. In those cases a lawyer or an appellant may be hard pressed to file a physical copy of the notice with the clerk.

Appeal Dismissed for Late Filing.

The appellant in J.C.C. v. Madison County Department of Human Resources had their case dismissed for a late appeal. The appeal appeared to have been filed three days early, but that filing did not count. The first notice of appeal was done electronically three days before the 14 day deadline. Three days after the deadline passed, a paper copy was filed with the court clerk.

The Court of Civil Appeals dismissed J.C.C.‘s appeal. The court did not find the electronic filing to be a placeholder for the later hard-copy paper filing. According to the Court of Civil Appeals, a rule is a rule.

Why the Strict Rule on Paper Copies?

Before October 1, 2019 the court’s rules mandated the paper filing. Indeed, the notice was just one of a list of items that had to be filed with a hard-copy. Court rules, however, are just that: rules made up by the courts. Such rules can be changed by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court seemed to have at least two things in mind when it changed the rules. First, the federal courts (and those of most other states) were already allowing the notice to be filed online. Second, the court was concerned with payment of the filing fee. Perhaps filing in person seemed a better guarantee of having the fee paid on time. It may also have wanted to avoid the harsh results of cases like J.C.C.’s dismissal.

What to do with your appeal: