Filing, Service and Deadlines – Traps for the Unwary abound
by: Arend J. Abel, Attorney
A recent Indiana Court of Appeals opinion serves as a warning that those filing pleadings and other papers must always check the precise terms governing deadlines and how to comply with them. In Moryl v. Ransone, decided May 9, 2013, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that a proposed medical malpractice complaint sent to the Indiana Department of Insurance was untimely because it was “filed” using Federal Express, rather than sent by certified or registered mail. Although the Indiana Trial Rules allow for filing via third-party carriers like Federal Express, the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act does not. The failure to recognize this nuance in the filing rules had dire consequences for Mrs. Moryl, whose malpractice claim on behalf of her husband was thrown out on summary judgment.
There is a broader lesson to be learned than just the rules applicable to proposed medical malpractice complaints, however. There are a number of provisions in the Indiana Trial Rules and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that create risks for the unwary practitioner.
For example, when a deadline runs from the date a prior paper was served and the paper was served via “United States Mail,” the responding party has three additional days beyond the normal response time, under Indiana Trial Rule 6(E). Thus, a response for which the rules specify a 30-day deadline is actually due 33 days from the date the prior paper was mailed. However, if the prior paper was served in some other way (such as by hand delivery), the three-day rule does not apply.
Importantly, the three-day rule also does not apply if the deadline runs from the filing of the prior paper, or if the deadline runs from issuance of an order. As a result, if a final judgment is entered against a party, the party has 30 days, not 33 days, to appeal. Again, failure to recognize this nuance can be fatal to a case.
Differences between State and Federal practice present still more opportunities for procedural missteps. In federal court, if a paper is served via electronic means (which generally means using the Federal Court’s “Electronic Case Filing” or ECF system), the three-day rule applies under Federal Rules 6(d) and 5(b)(2)(E). In the Indiana State Courts, which just began recognizing email service this year, the three-day rule does not apply. There are a variety of other differences between State and federal time deadlines, including numbers of days and whether intermediate Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays count.
The bottom line is that parties and practitioners must carefully review the rules applicable to each particular deadline, every single time. Only in that way can they avoid a costly lesson such as the one the Indiana Court of Appeals delivered in Moryl.