Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Devil's in the Details

A few days back, I had a lawyer friend of mine come into our library.  Seems he had a case he was working on that he was rather giddy about because he was about to give opposing counsel no small degree of grief based on a rule of court he had just discovered.  Seems opposing counsel's brief had failed to comply with a little known rule of court and my friend the attorney was going to lower the boom and get the opposition's complaint thrown out of court.  What is ironic about this is that no less than 3 months previous, friend attorney was in the library complaining that his complaint had been tossed on a similar technicality.  The point I'm making here is that sometimes, legal documents get bounced out of court not because the legal theory upon which it is based is incorrect (i.e. breach of contract, negligence, fraud, etc) or how something was written.  Rather, they get rejected merely because someone failed to follow a particular rule of court.  Let me elucidate.

In California, the state rules of court can be found at www.courts.ca.gov/rules.htm.  In these rules is a little know rule (specifically rule 2.101(a)(1)) which says:  

(a) Recycled paper must be used for the following:
(1) All original papers filed with the court and all copies of papers, documents, and exhibits, whether filed with the court or served on other parties;

The point is that if you're writing an original pleading (like a complaint), it must be on recycled paper or it can be rejected.  What does that mean?  What are the implications?  Well, let's say that the limitations period is going to run out at 4:30PM on the day you need to file your complaint for a person injury action and you've gone and NOT used recycled paper for your complaint.  If the clerk catches it, s/he can reject the filing of said complaint resulting in your missing the deadline to file your complaint and you're out of luck (meaning, you are precluded from filing your complaint on recycled paper the very next day).  OOPS!!!

 Let's try another one.  Under the Indiana Rule of Court (located at www.in.gov/judiciary/2695.htm), Rule 3.1(A) states that:

(A)  Initiating party. At the time an action is commenced, the attorney representing the party initiating the proceeding or the party, if not represented by an attorney, shall file with the clerk of the court an appearance form setting forth the following information:
(1) Name, address and telephone number of the initiating party or parties filing the appearance form;
(2) Name, address, attorney number, telephone number, FAX number, and e-mail address of any attorney representing the party, as applicable;
(3) A statement that the party will or will not accept service by FAX;


So, if, when you file an action in Indiana, you fail to include any of the above in your pleading, the court could reject any or all of your documents based on a mere technicality.  What are the odds of that?!  Well, as it turns out, there is a whole court system dedicated to deciding cases on their technical merits.  Decisions from that court can be found in the Federal Rules Decisions.  

If you're wanting to see other Rules of Court for courts all over the United States, you can point your attention to www.washlaw.edu (a free and awesome service from the Washburn University School of Law).  If you happen to live around a county law library and you want to see a paper copy of the rules of court, waste no time and go see your local county law librarian who will be happy (happy, I say) to help you help yourself to their plethora of print (or online) legal resources...and you have a great rest of the day!