CM/ECF stands for case management and electronic filing system. Federal courts use it to allow counsel for parties to file things — pleadings, motions, vacation letters, whatnot. It also permits court clerks to post notices, including of hearings and trials, as well as orders and opinions.
The ease that CM/ECF newly affords has a dark side. Now you can file papers a tick before midnight on the due date. Which fact may not count as a lifestyle advance for lawyers and their office staff.
But Blawgletter means a different concern. With great accessibility comes great responsibility — specifically to know about stuff that pops up on the CM/ECF docket.
The losing party in American Boat Co., Inc. v. Unknown Sunken Barge, No. 08-2166 (8th Cir. June 4, 2009), found out the hard way. The district court granted the motion of the United States on American Boat's claim that the government negligently failed to maintain a navigable channel along the lower reaches of the Mississippi River. American Boat moved to alter or amend the judgment. The court denied it on November 5, 2003, making the judgment final. But American Boat didn't react until four months later.
The Eighth Circuit held the appeal untimely. It cited the district court's finding that American Boat's local counsel — in particular, a secretary in local counsel's office — did get timely CM/ECF notice of the case-ending order. (Lead counsel hadn't signed up for CM/ECF.) Although the secretary's computer showed no record of an automatic email notice from the CM/ECF system, the court found that she must have opened the email on a different computer. That sufficed.
What have we learned? Mainly that you'll have to climb a steep hill to get over the presumption that CM/ECF sent notice and that you got it. But also that you can cut the risk of missing actual notice by registering more than one person for CM/ECF in each case. Especially lead counsel in Greenville, Mississippi for a case in Missouri.