In Farley v. Koepp, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that an action is timely commenced where a complaint is delivered to the clerk before the statute of limitations expires, regardless of defects in the complaint’s form.
In a June 8, 2015 decision, Farley v. Koepp, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit considered the timeliness of a civil action based on federal question jurisdiction. The court held that a complaint is considered filed on the date that it is delivered to the clerk, even if the filing process has not been fully completed and that, by extension, the action is considered “commenced” on that day for the purpose of the statute of limitations (No. 14-1695, 2015 WL 3540643 (7th Cir. Jun. 8, 2015)).Under the local rules in effect in the US District Court for the Southern District of Illinois in March 2013, a plaintiff initiating a case was required to e-mail a copy of the complaint and civil cover sheet to a specific e-mail box at the court clerk’s office. The court clerk would then open the case in the court’s CM/ECF system and send the plaintiff notification to electronically file the complaint on the CM/ECF system.On March 8, 2013, counsel for the plaintiff in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action sent the complaint to the correct e-mail address and later that day received a response that the case had been opened and the complaint could be filed on the CM/ECF system. On the next business day, March 11, counsel attempted, but was unable, to upload the complaint due to complications with the electronic payment of the filing fee. March 11, 2013 was the last day to commence the action under the applicable two-year statute of limitations. The payment issues were rectified and the complaint was successfully uploaded to the CM/ECF system on March 12, but the statute of limitations had expired. The district court dismissed the complaint as untimely, and the plaintiff appealed.The Seventh Circuit vacated the district court’s decision and remanded the matter. The court explained that the timeliness of an action in these circumstances turned on when the action was commenced under FRCP 3, which states that a civil action is commenced by filing a complaint with the court. FRCP 5(d)(2) provides that a complaint is filed when delivered to the clerk and further explains that a clerk may not refuse to file the complaint solely because it does not formally comply with the local rules or practice. Therefore, the court held that where the local rules require counsel to e-mail the complaint to the court in order to open an electronic case file, the e-mail submission of the complaint to the court clerk “delivers” it to the clerk under FRCP 5(d)(2) and constitutes a “filing” that commences an action under FRCP 3, which tolls the statute of limitations. The court cautioned that its holding does not mean that litigants are excused from following the local e-filing rules, and that counsel finding themselves in these circumstances must promptly fix any defects and come into compliance or risk a dismissal of the complaint for failure to prosecute.
Practitioners in the Seventh Circuit should note that, for the purpose of the statute of limitations, courts will deem a complaint “filed” and an action “commenced” under FRCP on the date when it is delivered to the clerk, regardless of defects in the form of the document.