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Legally Speaking


Issue: August, 2005
Author: Douglas E. Cressler

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Federal Appeals: The Scoop on Electronic Submission and Filing

Since December 1, 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has required that motions, briefs, and petitions filed with that court be submitted electronically, in addition to the usual hardcopy filing. At the same time, the court is developing a new docketing system that will permit true electronic filing, eliminating the need for filing paper documents. This article summarizes the federal appellate court’s current electronic submission requirements and previews the changes appellate practitioners can expect when true electronic filing becomes a reality with the circuit court.

The Current Practice

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is currently operating under an Emergency General Order filed October 20, 2004, made effective December 1 of that year. The Order provides generally that in addition to the paper filings required by the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and local Tenth Circuit Rules, certain documents must also be transmitted to the court in electronic form. The Order is accessible from the court’s website at www.ca10.uscourts.gov by clicking on “Electronic Submissions.”

The Order has been amended twice since its adoption. It currently requires that all motions, petitions, briefs, bills of cost, and Fed. R. App. P. 28(j) letters be submitted to the court in “digital form.” That term is expressly defined in the Order as follows: “[I]n Portable Document Format (also known as PDF or Acrobat format and sometimes referred to as Native PDF) generated from an original word processing file, so that the text may be searched and copied: PDF images created by scanning documents do not comply.”

The required digital format, as opposed to the scanned form of PDF document, allows the court to search and copy text from submitted documents, thus facilitating appellate review. The Order permits the inclusion of scanned attachments to digital submissions, but only when the attachments are not available in digital format.

A routine example illustrates how the Order operates. Tenth Circuit Rule 28.2(A) requires that all pertinent written findings, conclusions, opinions, and orders of the lower tribunal be included with the brief of the appellant. If those documents are only available in paper form, they can be scanned together into one additional PDF document and transmitted along with the digital brief. Therefore, the e-mail transmission to the court would contain two PDF files: one in searchable digital form containing the brief, cover-to-cover, and a second file containing the attachments to the brief in scanned form.

Submission by mailing a CD ROM to the clerk is required when the materials submitted are under seal. All unsealed submissions should be sent via e-mail to esubmission@ca10.uscourts.gov. There is no need for special authorization, sign-on codes, or passwords to submit electronically by e-mail.

Within a short time after submission, the electronic documents are linked by court staff to the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) docket and can be accessed, for a fee, through that system. Information about PACER registration is available at pacer.psc.uscourts.gov/register.html.

Appellate practitioners are advised to read the Order carefully and to also comply with its requirements governing identification and signing, certification, service, and privacy redactions. As noted above, the electronic submission does not replace, but is in addition to, the requirement of actual filing in hardcopy with the requisite number of copies, as provided by rule. Practitioners with questions should call the circuit clerk’s office at (303) 844-3157 or send an e-mail to esubmission@ca10.uscourts.gov.

The Future – True Electronic Filing

The circuit’s electronic submission process is just a warm-up for the advent of electronic filing. As the Order states, electronic submission was adopted by the court “to evaluate the usefulness of documents in electronic form.”

The next step in the process will be the implementation of an electronic filing system that completely eliminates the need for the filing and service of paper documents. The acronym used by the federal courts for the new system is CM/ECF, which stands for Case Management/Electronic Case Files.

Whether at the trial court or appellate court level, the general concept is the same. Attorneys register to be part of the system and are then allowed to file and serve pleadings via the Internet with no hardcopies ever trading hands. Rather than sending a paper motion or brief to a court clerk who then makes an entry on the docket system, the attorney actually creates the docket entry, attaches the court filing to it, and hits the “send” button. The document is filed, the docket is updated, and parties are automatically notified electronically that a filing has occurred. The document can be accessed by anyone immediately.

Among the benefits of CM/ECF to attorneys, clients, and courts are:

  • 24 hour, 7-day per week access to file, view, or print documents;
  • Automatic e-mail notification of case activity;
  • Documents can be filed and accessed from anywhere in the world that Internet access is available;
  • Immediate creation of docket entries;
  • Immediate access to updated docket sheets and to the documents themselves;
  • Potential elimination of paper files that can be misplaced or lost;
  • Savings in copying, courier, and noticing costs;
  • The ability to store and search documents electronically.

Many attorneys will already be familiar with electronic filing, either through the state systems or through the federal district court.

Although a CM/ECF system is widely available and is growing in popularity with federal district courts, an electronic filing system for the federal circuit courts of appeal and the bankruptcy appellate panels is still in the development process. The various circuit courts are working with the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to develop a system that will be similar to the systems used in the district courts.

In the Tenth Circuit, the project has the full support of the court. The court has appointed Betsy Shumaker, who also serves as Counsel to the Chief Judge, as the CM/ECF project manager. The court hopes that an electronic filing system will be implemented in the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit sometime during 2006, but the project is not far enough along in development for any hard deadlines to be set.

When a clearer picture emerges on an implementation date, the circuit court will begin a large-scale education and training effort. Anticipated plans include on-line training programs that can be accessed from anywhere and in-person training sessions in each of the six states comprising the Tenth Circuit: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. For the moment, however, the focus is on development of a system well-suited to the needs of this diverse circuit.

Lawyers take for granted that we can transact all forms of business, communicate immediately with clients and colleagues, and access an expanding universe of legal and non-legal information through the convenience of an Internet infrastructure that essentially did not exist 20 years ago. Electronic filing is also on its way to becoming just another routine part of practicing law.

Douglas E. Cressler serves the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit as its chief deputy clerk. He can be reached at Doug_Cressler@ca10.uscourts.gov or at (303) 844-3157.

Copyright © 2005 – Wyoming State Bar