Last week, a federal appellate court held that two law firms missed an appeal filing deadline in a $40 million verdict case, even though the law firms claim to have been misled by a notice of electronic filing email sent by the federal trial court. Two-Way Media LLC v. AT&T, Inc., No. 2014-1302 (Fed. Cir. March 19, 2015).
In the case, AT&T lost a jury trial in federal court in Texas. It then filed motions for a Renewed Judgment, or alternatively, for a new trial under seal. The trial court issued orders denying the motions and entered a final judgment, which caused appeal delays to start running.
However, the electronic filing email that linked to the orders on ECF (the federal court electronic filnig system) stated in the summary of the document field that the orders granted the motions to file under seal, without indicating that the orders also denied the relief sought in the motions themselves. Thus, the time to file an appeal began to toll.
AT&T’s attorneys say that they did not discover this until after the appeal deadlines had already run, but on appeal, in a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that it was too late and that the trial court correctly denied the defendant’s motion to extend or reopen the appeal period.
The moral of the story for lawyers is that you should not trust the wording in those electronic filing emails that we get in Florida and in federal court, and actually read the order or document attached to that email. An attorney can no longer use the excuse that he/she relied upon the electronic filing email with a summary of the order/motion instead of reading the actual attached/linked document.