In United Bank v. Estate of Frazee, 2016 Fla. App. LEXIS 10780 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016), the Fourth District Court of Appeal addressed the issue of whether the Clerk of the Court was required to accept paper copies of statements of claim received on the last day of the claims period. United Bank was an alleged creditor of the Estate of Edward G. Frazee. Under Section 733.702(1), Fla. Stat., a creditor must file any statements of claim against a decedent’s estate within three months of the first publication of the notice to creditors or within thirty days of being served with it, whichever is later. Any claim not timely filed within that time is barred unless the court grants an extension. Section 733.702(3), Fla. Stat. Extensions are granted only upon grounds of fraud, estoppel, or insufficient notice of the claims period. In the instant case, United Bank hired an attorney licensed to practice in Florida but who was located in another state. The attorney mailed two statements of claim to the Clerk which were received the day prior to the deadline to file a claim. After the claims period expired, the Clerk notified United Bank’s counsel that they had to file the claims electronically. United Bank through its counsel thereafter filed the claims electronically, but after the claims period had expired. Over a year later United Bank moved the trial court to find the claims to have been timely filed based on Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.520(f). The trial court rejected United Bank’s argument concluding that the failure to file was a result of the negligence and lack of knowledge of the attorney and did not amount to justice requiring the court to allow the late filing of the claims. It denied United Bank’s motion and struck the claims.
Rule 2.520(a), Florida Rules of Judicial Administration states that “all documents filed in any court shall be filed by electronic transmission in accordance with rule 2.525.” A statement of claim even if submitted in paper is not filed unless it is electronically submitted or falls within one of the exceptions to electronic filing. These exceptions are set forth in Rule 2.525(d), Florida Rules of Judicial Administration. When an exception is applicable, the clerk must convert any filed paper document to an electronic document. “Since ‘filing’ is only accomplished through electronic submission (in the absence of a Rule 2.525 exception), a document is not actually ‘filed’ when improperly submitted to the clerk in paper, and the clerk’s obligation to convert paper filings would not kick in.” The Fourth DCA ruled that Rule 2.520(f), Florida Rules of Judicial Administration would not apply to an unauthorized attempt to make a paper filing, as in the case before it. It further stated, “[a]s the trial court correctly noted, this rule was not adopted to allow attorneys a ‘free pass’ to file paper documents and require the clerk to convert their paper into electronic filings for them.” The Fourth DCA observed that the Bank’s interpretation of Rule 2.520(f) would add another exception by allowing paper filing for everyone, as long as they later resubmitted the filing electronically. A clerk must only except for filing paper documents within the exceptions of Rule 2.525(d), Florida Rules of Judicial Administration. In affirming, it also noted that the Bank did not argue that trial court abused its discretion in finding that justice did not require it to allow for paper filing where the late filing was the result of negligence or lack of knowledge by a Florida attorney.
This case demonstrates the importance of retaining attorneys skilled in the area of the law where the client is seeking representation, and knowledgeable of the applicable Rules of Procedure.
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