A recent case out of a Texas federal court highlights the care that must be taken when dealing with notices of appeal, which are jurisdictional, and post-judgment motions in this day and age of e-filing. In what is surely a litigator’s worst nightmare, AT&T’s lawyers in Two-Way Media LLC v. AT&T Operations, Inc. missed the 30-day deadline to appeal from a $40 million patent verdict. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas denied their motion for an extension of time despite confusion generated by the Court’s electronic notification system.
The court issued orders disposing of all of AT&T’s post-trial motions on the same day. Counsel received email notice of certain rulings. But the email notifications failed to indicate that the Court had denied AT&T’s substantive motions for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial. Although the docket entries were later modified, no new electronic notices were sent to counsel, and counsel relied on the court’s electronic notices in determining that the time to file an appeal had not started to run.
Rejecting AT&T’s request for an extension of time to appeal under Rule 4(a)(5) or Rule 4(a)(6) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, the court found no showing of excusable neglect or lack of notice. “[I]t is not sufficient for attorneys to rely on the electronic and e-mail notifications received from the ECF system,” the court explained, “as the docket entries and notifications do not always convey the Court’s disposition in its entirety.” AT&T is appealing the district court’s decision in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
The Sixth Circuit generally agrees that parties have an “affirmative duty to monitor the dockets to keep apprised of the entry of orders that they may wish to appeal.” Yeschick v. Mineta, 675 F.3d 622, 630 (6th Cir. 2012). The court has denied relief where counsel did not receive notice of case filings due to a change of his email address, id. (affirming denial of Rule 60(b) motion), and where counsel failed to register his email address with the electronic filing system, Kuhn v. Sulzer Orthopedics, Inc., 498 F.3d 365, 367 (6th Cir. 2007) (affirming denial of motion to reopen time to appeal). On the other hand, the court has held that a technical error in an electronic filing does not make an appeal untimely. Shuler v. Garrett, 715 F.3d 185, 187 (6th Cir. 2013) (denying motion to dismiss appeal).
These cases serve as a stark reminder that email notifications – however convenient – should not be relied upon by counsel. Courts around the country require counsel to independently monitor case dockets and pay careful attention to docket entries. As powerful as technology can be, it also creates pitfalls to be avoided.