Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to be called out by a federal appellate court for neglecting to update your email address in the electronic case filing (ECF) system?
No? Let's it keep it that way.
Aside from a self-serving desire to avoid public shaming, it could also help your clients. Unfortunately, we learn that lesson this week from a cautionary tale.
Pennsylvania attorney W. Mark Mullineaux represented Communications Network International (CNI) in a lawsuit stemming from WorldCom's 2002 bankruptcy. (MCI had sued CNI to recover for allegedly unpaid telecommunications services.) The requisite lawyering and adjudicating happened, and CNI was unhappy with the outcome. It appealed.
The district court affirmed the bankruptcy court's rulings in a memorandum decision. The rulings were entered on the electronic docket, and notice was automatically emailed to Mullineaux, CNI's sole counsel of record, at the email address which he previously had registered with the clerk's office for the purpose of receiving such notifications.
But that was his old email address.
Mullineaux's new email address was listed in his motion to appear pro hac vice in the case, but he hadn't updated his profile in the ECF system. As a result, Mullineaux didn't receive the court's notification and failed to file a timely notice of appeal.
The district court excused the delay. The Second Circuit, however, concluded that the district court had abused its discretion by reopening the filing period and dismissed CNI's appeal, Reuters reports.
The three-judge panel reviewing the case admitted that it appeared to be the first federal appellate court to find an abuse of discretion in a district court's grant of a Rule 4(a)(6) motion where the preconditions for relief were met, but the judges weren't worried about being trailblazers.
District Judge Lewis Kaplan, sitting by designation, described Mullineaux's mistake as "indefensible," and wrote, "There is nothing in the history of the rules ... to suggest that the drafters sought to provide relief when the fault lies with the litigants themselves" and that "CNI's failure to receive Civil Rule 77(d) notice was entirely and indefensibly a problem of its counsel's making, and Rule 4(a)(6) was not designed to reward such negligence."
Granted, not every court will reach the same conclusion as the Second Circuit did here, but do you want to risk it?
In the BigLaw world, a single attorney -- among hundreds -- can make a mistake without compromising a firm's reputation. Remember the Sullivan and Cromwell mail room of death? Sure, it was embarrassing for the white shoe firm to make headlines because two former associates abandoned a death row inmate's appeal, but it didn't destroy the firm's sterling image.
In solo or small practice, it's a different story. Clients aren't willing to play attorney roulette and pray that a weak link doesn't work on their case. They'll just go to another firm.
Keep your clients. Update your email address in the ECF.
- In Re: WorldCom (FindLaw's CaseLaw)
- Late Appeal Denied for Lawyer Who Didn't Update Email Address, Divided 2nd Circuit Panel Says (ABA Journal)
- Attorney Malpractice Claims: What Most Gets Lawyers Sued? (FindLaw's Second Circuit Blog)