ARTICLE DETAIL

October 19, 2017

“Technically Speaking” – the Do’s and Don’ts of the New Maryland Electronic Filing Rules

By:  Jennifer L. Harris, Esquire

Currently 13 out of 24 counties in Maryland require electronic filing.  Effective August 1, 2017, the Court’s Standing Committee of Rules of Practice and Procedure (the “Rules Committee”) revised the electronic filing rules to be slightly more “technical.”  While electronic filing typically felt more “safe” than the traditional filing methods, the Rules Committee has now tightened security. Confirmed by the Maryland Court of Appeals, new deficiency electronic filing rules will be implemented that require a Judge to strike certain non-compliant pleadings.

So what should you be aware of to make sure that your pleading is not stricken?

The following is a list of rule changes and technicalities to make sure that you are successful when using the electronic filing system:

The new rules added a definition for “signature” to Maryland Rule 20-101 in Section (v) by accounting for four types of signatures—a digital signature, a facsimile signature, a handwritten signature, or typographical signature.

Alert: do not be distracted by these many options—the rule remains that only a facsimile signature or a typographical signature are allowed as signatures on pleadings. See Rule 20-107(a)(1).

A facsimile signature is a scanned image together with the signer’s typed name. See Rule 20-101(f).

A typographical signature means the symbol “/s/” affixed to the signature line, together with the typed name, address, e-mail address, and telephone number of the signer. See Rule 20-101(z).  The Rules Committee deleted that the “/s/” signature is “above” the other required information, and replaced the language with “together with.”  This is an inconsistent and unclear change because Rule 20-207(a)(2) still uses the word “above.”

A digital signature retained the same definition in the previous rules and means a secure electronic signature inserted using a process approved by the State Court Administrator that uniquely identifies the signer and ensures authenticity of the signature and that the signed document has not been altered or repudiated. See Rule 20-101(e).

A handwritten signature means the signer’s original genuine signature on a paper document. See Rule 20-101(h).

Another technicality to keep in mind is that if you are an attorney attempting to electronically file, then you must also include your client protection fund number in your signature. See Rule 20-107(a)(2).

  1. Multiple Documents.

There may be a time when you are filing not only a motion into a case, but exhibits, a memorandum, and a proposed Order.  Pursuant to the revised Rule 20-201(e), all related documents filed at the same time in the same action must be filed as separate pleadings or papers but in a single electronic folder. See Rule 20-201(e).

  1. Contact Information.

If you are filing for the first time, make sure to include your e-mail address where electronic service may be made upon you. See Rule 20-201(f).

  1. Restricted Information.

In what used to be Section (f) in Rule 20-201, now (h), the Maryland Rules no longer require litigants to include a certification that the document does not include restricted information. Restricted information includes information prohibited by law from being included in the court record, information that is required to be redacted, information under seal, or information that has been previously excluded by court order. See Rule 20-101(t).

The same rules apply to submissions that do include restricted information.

  1. Electronic File Names.

The electronic file name for each submission must relate to the title of the submission. See Rule 20-201(i).

  1. Under Seal.

If you want a submission sealed, then the file name must include the word “sealed.”  If there is already a sealing Order, the title must make reference to that specific sealing Order. See Rule 20-201(j).

  1. Proposed Orders.

If an Order is “proposed” then the file name of the Order submission must state that it is “proposed.” See Rule 20-201(k).

Finally, with respect to the rules on deficiencies and enforcement, the rules remain that if a submission does not comply with either Rule 20-107(a)(1), the rule requiring facsimile or typographical signatures, or Rule 20-201(g), the rule requiring a certificate of service, then the clerk shall strike the submission, notify the filer of the deficiencies, and enter that the submission was received but stricken. See Rule 20-203(c).  Then, after a submission has been stricken, the filer may seek review by filing a motion with the administrative judge. See Rule 20-203(c).

Rule 20-203 also remains unchanged with regard to material violations of any other rule in Title 20, other than Rule 20-107(a)(1) or Rule 20-201(g), that requires the clerk to send notice that a submission is deficient.

The substantial change to Rule 20-203 occurred in Section (d)(2).  In the previous version of Rule 20-203(d)(2), until the deficiency was corrected, the court would take no further action.  Now, unless a judge issues an order revising the notice from the clerk, or the deficiency is otherwise resolved within 10 days from notice, then the court shall strike the submission.

The implications of this change are if the violation falls under any of the non-specified rules listed in Rule 20-203(a) or (c), such as improperly titling a document, improperly placing all related documents in the same envelope, improperly lumping multiple documents in the same submission, or any of the other technicalities outlined in the sections above, then the clerk shall send a notice to the filer and other parties of the deficiency, and if the deficiency is not fixed within 10 days, then the court shall strike the submission.

The rule is unclear about the next step after the judge strikes a submission.  Since the Order to Strike becomes an Order by the Court, one might need to file a motion to reconsider, or a motion to revise to make sure the submission is not kept out of the court permanently.  What is clear is that the court is required to act in the affirmative and strike non-compliant pleadings.  Therefore, it might be best to avoid this situation in its entirety, and learn the new technicalities that the August 1, 2017 revisions include.

Jennifer Harris is an associate at PK Law.  Her primary areas of practice are corporate and real estate litigation (including commercial and residential), real estate transactions, landlord/tenant matters, land-use litigation, and the enforceability of land covenants.  Jennifer’s litigation experience includes all aspects of litigation, including bench and jury trials, in state district and circuit court for individuals and companies, including pre-trial and trial practice, motion practice, fact and expert discovery, witness preparation, settlement negotiations, and providing counsel to clients regarding strategy, settlement and future liability. Jennifer can be reached at (410) 938-8702 or jharris@pklaw.com