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Florida Judge Tosses Improperly Spaced Court Filing

Hell hath no fury like a Florida judge who receives an improperly formatted brief. Luckily for the BigLaw lawyers for Darden Restaurants, the line spacing violation only landed them a scolding and striking, and not a denial, nor sanctions.

The pleading in question here was a motion for summary judgment. Rather than the standard double-spacing required by court rules, the motion had lines spaced at one and a half. Additionally, compounding the matters of form were nearly double the amount of acceptable lines of footnoting (clearly this brief was submitted before the lawyers had a chance to read our post on excessive footnoting).

Over the Line

When it comes to courts enforcing the rules of pleading, particularly those rules that impact the length of a pleading, courts actually have a few options. In addition to rejecting a filing, or requiring counsel to refile a corrected pleading, a court can simply not consider or read any part of the filing that is in excess of the limits. Although many lawyers have thought about playing with the margins, or spacing, in order to cram more words into a pleading, and countless have likely gotten away with a 1.9, or even 1.8, line spacing, exceeding word counts, and line or page limits, is risky business.

It's no shock that sanctions were not ordered in this case even though the footnoting was in direct violation of a court's order limiting the number of lines of footnotes to 46. The filed motion had nearly double the permissible lines. Also, in addition to the motion being improperly spaced, a supporting pleading, the undisputed facts, was also incorrectly spaced.

No Sanctions for You

It's quite common for courts to ignore, or simply not address, matters of form. Most frequently, if it is significant, such as a length violation, courts will strike the pleading and require refiling.

However, it is not unheard of for courts to sanction attorneys for bad writing and failing to adhere to court rules on pleading. In fact, sometimes it can go beyond merely monetary sanctions for wasting the court's, and an opposing counsel's, time, as one Illinois lawyer learned several years ago. Walter Maksym, who was undergoing cancer treatment, submitted a brief that the court found to be so poorly written that the court forwarded it to the state bar for Maksym to be investigated.

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