United Bank v. Estate of Frazee, Case No. 4D15-826 (Fla. 4th DCA, July 13, 2016)*
UPDATE: Mandate issued on September 2, 2016.
Bresky Law recently obtained affirmance of a trial court order that found a bank’s claims against a decedent’s estate untimely. The appeal required the Fourth DCA to examine the meaning of “filing” court documents in Florida after the statewide adoption of electronic filing. Electronic filing of court documents became mandatory (subject to certain exceptions) in the civil, probate, family law, and small claims divisions of Florida’s trial courts on April 1, 2013. Electronic filing requirements took effect in the criminal, traffic, and juvenile divisions of the trial courts on October 1, 2013.
In this probate matter, the Bank’s deadline to file a claim against the decedent’s Estate was May 15, 2013 under section 733.702(1), Florida Statutes. The Bank submitted its Statements of Claim in paper form, and the clerk received them on May 14, 2013. The Clerk later notified the Bank that the claims needed to be submitted electronically. Eventually the Bank resubmitted the claims in electronic format after the deadline had passed. The trial court later denied the Bank’s motion to find the claims timely, and the Bank appealed.
The Bank argued that the claims should be deemed filed on the day the clerk received the paper filings. Although Florida Rules of Judicial Administration 2.520 and 2.525 make electronic filing mandatory, the Bank argued that the claims were timely filed under Rule 2.520(f), which states that “[n]o clerk of court shall refuse to file any document because of noncompliance with this rule.” We argued on behalf of the Estate that the claims were untimely because, unless the filer fell into one of the specifically listed exceptions, which were inapplicable to this case, submitting a document to the Clerk in paper form did not constitute “filing” after Florida’s adoption of the mandatory electronic filing requirement. We argued that the Bank’s interpretation would allow a party to circumvent the mandatory electronic filing requirement.
In a two-to-one opinion, the Fourth DCA agreed with our position and affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the Bank’s claims were untimely. The Fourth DCA examined the applicable Florida Rules of Judicial Administration governing electronic filing of documents. The Fourth DCA concluded that Rule 2.520(f) applies only to paper documents that fall within an exception to electronic filing under Rule 2.525(d). The court also held that even if the language of Rule 2.520 were found to be ambiguous, a reading of subsection 2.520(f) in pari materia with the rest of the rules supported the trial court’s conclusion.
The Fourth DCA noted that Rule 2.525(d) provides a list of eight exceptions to the mandatory e-filing requirement. It concluded that the Bank’s interpretation would essentially add another exception that was not contemplated by the Florida Supreme Court, by allowing anyone to file in paper format as long as they later re-submitted the document electronically. “Such a broad exception is inconsistent with the mandatory nature of the e-filing requirement and the limited list of exceptions,” said the Fourth DCA.
This favorable result helps to clarify the rules governing the electronic filing of documents in Florida’s courts, and it protects our client from the claims that were improperly submitted in paper form.
* The decision is not final until disposition of any timely filed motions for rehearing.