Norman D. Farnam
Douglas C. Scriver
For many years, Federal district and bankruptcy courts have required electronic filing of all pleadings. Likewise, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have required e-filing of pleadings since 2009. Wisconsin circuit courts now have started phasing in mandatory e-filing procedures as of June 1, 2016, with new rules governing e-filing taking effect July 1, 2016. While e-filing is currently mandatory only in one Wisconsin county and only for a limited variety of cases, other counties will transition to mandatory e-filing for civil, small claims, family and paternity cases throughout the remainder of 2016 and 2017. Mandatory e-filing for other categories of cases will follow. Once e-filing becomes mandatory in a particular county, open cases will be converted to an electronic format and e-filing will be required for both new and pending cases.
To initiate a case, a plaintiff will file the summons and complaint electronically. A notice must accompany the initiating documents (served on the defendants by traditional means) stating that the case was e-filed. The attorney representing a responding party must register not only to use the e-filing system, but also as a user in the specific case. All pleadings will be electronically signed. As with the federal system, subsequent pleadings will be served amongst other users through the e-filing system.
A document will be considered filed with the court on the date and time of its submission if the clerk of court later accepts it for filing. The e-filing system will accept filings 24 hours per day unless it is undergoing maintenance or repair. A document will be considered filed on a particular day if: i) it is submitted by 11:59 p.m. and ii) the clerk of court subsequently accepts it. Confirmations will be issued upon both submission and acceptance of a document, and, when personal service is not required, the confirmation of acceptance will serve as proof of service on other users in the case. In anticipation of issues encountered by users, the new law also provides relief for untimely filings caused by technical failures, both of the e-filing system and of users’ internet service, equipment, or software.
Attorneys will undoubtedly encounter hiccups when adapting to the e-filing system. For instance, unlike the Federal system, an attorney representing a responding party must register off-line before the attorney can e-file. The attorney must then wait for the system administrator to activate that attorney before a responsive pleading may be filed. In the authors’ experience, there is a lag time involved and counsel is advised not to wait until the day an answer is due to start this process.
Likewise, because the system is new to users and administrators alike, users should anticipate that administrators will have a learning curve as well. In the authors’ experience, it may take some effort to locate the appropriate staff member in the clerk of court’s office to address questions. Staff certainly should not be expected to have anticipated every issue that may arise. To date, training materials regarding use of the system are still evolving, but they have improved dramatically.
For those users accustomed to the Federal e-filing system, the state system’s user interface is not as robust, and users do not receive immediate feedback on filings which can cause some anxiety. Finally, unlike the federal system, there is no state system equivalent to “PACER” that permits public access to all of the pleadings filed in a case.
Ultimately, the e-filing system is a huge leap forward and will give users much more flexibility. As the comments to the new statute note, cooperation amongst attorneys, parties, and the courts will promote a smooth transition to more modern and efficient procedures.
If you have any questions about how the information in this article may affect you or your business, please contact Norman Farnam at firstname.lastname@example.org or (608) 257‑2281 or your Stroud attorney.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is provided for general informational purposes only, is not necessarily updated to account for changes in the law, and should not be considered tax or legal advice. This article is not intended to create, nor does the receipt of it constitute, an attorney-client relationship. You should consult with your own legal and/or financial advisors for legal and tax advice tailored to your specific circumstances.