6/27/12

Top Three Questions for a Docketing Professional

[NOTE: I asked my colleague, Jonathan Owens, to write a guest post to discuss the eBook he wrote on Calculating Court Deadlines and some of the questions he addresses within the firm regarding court dockets. His eBook is available for download on the iPadKindle and Nook devices.]

In my many years of working as a docketing professional for a large law firm, I have been asked the following questions more times than I could count.


1) How are the additional days afforded for service added?

While the question seems straightforward, the answer has many layers. Depending on your jurisdiction, the days could be added to the period and counted directly from the trigger date (i.e., 30 days plus 3 calendar days for service would be 33 days from the trigger date - fairly simple). Other jurisdictions, Federal Court included, you would count your initial period as directed in the rules and then add any additional days for service. This type of calculation is a major point of confusion as many initial periods would land on a weekend and then move to the next court date. So, we’d have to move to the next court date before adding the additional days for service (i.e., 30 days from trigger date might land on a Saturday; we would move to next court and then add 3 calendar days - this would essentially give us 35 days to respond).
2) How do you know when we can add the additional days for service?

The additional days for service are only allowed when the rule, statute or court order specifically state “from service” in the calculation. Sounds simple enough, but not necessarily. I’ve seen many an order that states something along the lines of “plaintiff shall have 10 days to file an amended complaint.” The order was filed and entered on the docket which may have included service upon the plaintiff by ECF. Most jurisdictions allow the additional days for service by ECF, so one might assume the 3 days could be afforded in this case. While the order in this example is vague in what date is triggering the 10 day period, the mention of “from service” is definitely not included. Unless that word “service” is in the rule, I would never be comfortable adding those additional days.
3) How do you know which way to move for a deadline landing on a weekend or holiday?
All jurisdictions will address how to move if a date lands on a weekend or holiday. The problem lies in the ones that don’t specifically state what to do if you are counting backwards from a trigger event. Those that do not usually state “if a due date lands on a weekend or holiday, move to the next court date.” It’s not uncommon to have an attorney or paralegal interpret the next court date to be the ensuing Monday (or Tuesday if that Monday happened to be a holiday). While that interpretation of the rule is not without merit, I personally recommend to continue moving backwards to the Friday before (or Thursday if that Friday happened to be a holiday).

After being asked these questions over and over again (the same questions I had posed myself when I began my career docketing), I found the lack of resources available which addressed these legal issues frustrating. So I thought if I can’t find the resources I need, I would try and make them myself. The result was my self-published Court Deadline Calculation guide “Calculating Court Deadlines: How to Apply the Rules for Computation of Time”. Included in this is an overview of how to apply the rules and then a comprehensive overview for each jurisdiction. I’m hopeful the end result will be a useful tool for those unfamiliar with the process entirely (the initial overview chapters should be an excellent introduction to calculating deadlines) and those very familiar with calculating deadlines (the comprehensive state-by-state overview allows quick access to the calculation rules).

An example of Florida’s overview chapter is below:


[keys to civil and appellate rules with link to main court page and civil rule authority sited]

[appellate rule authority sited and example calculation]

The eBook is currently available for purchase on the iPad, Kindle and Nook.

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2 comments:

Jonathan Geiger said...

Great post. There is some very good information here. When our team of Civil Procedure attorneys encounters a situation like you describe in Question 2, we adopt the same approach: only add extra days for service when the deadline is explicitly counted "from service." We deem this the safest course of action to ensure deadlines are not missed.

Of course, practitioners should always be aware of the particularities of their respective jurisdictions. One interesting exception I have run into comes from Washington state. In Seto v. American Elevator, Inc., 154 P.3d 189 (Wash. 2007), the Supreme Court of Washington gave an extra 3 days to file a Request for Trial De Novo after an arbitration award. The rule counted the deadline from the filing of the award and a proof of service. Actual service was not mentioned. However, because the court interpreted service to be a requirement, it ultimately gave an extra three days to file the request.

As I like to say though, ultimately the point of a docketing system is not to make sure you win your case at the appellate level - it's to make sure you never have to argue about a deadline at all. Reduce risk, reduce costs. Choose the deadline with firm support in the rules.

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