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The post below was published on Tuesday, October 19th, 2010 at 9:32 AM.

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Florida Supreme Court: The Persistence of Time Stamps, Or Not

What happens when you timely file a notice of appeal but the clerk’s office neglects to stamp the notice until the filing period has expired? Can you challenge the time stamp on the notice of appeal?

This decision from the Fourth District rejected the appellant’s efforts to overcome a supposedly untimely time stamp, holding:

[I]nterpreting rule 1.080(e) in a bright line fashion obviates the need to engage in any fact finding beyond the information stamped on the notice of appeal. Finite rules make sense. They are easy to follow, easier to apply, and remove doubt. And, while we are cognizant of the fact that it is within the realm of possibility that the clerk’s date stamp machine may, from time to time, produce an incorrect date, prudent attorneys and clerks always have the option of paying closer attention to such details before the jurisdictional time limit expires.

The result was considerable concern in the appellate community over what counsel must do to ensure that a timely filed notice is timely stamped by the clerk’s office. Appellate counsel with statewide, regional, and certainly national practices do not regularly file notices of appeal in person. They are sent by an overnight service or by courier. In some Florida circuit courts laboring under significant staffing constraints, a notice of appeal filed today might not appear on the court’s docket for many days, and the date indicated on the docket may not match the date actually stamped on the notice itself. It is one thing to confirm that a clerk’s office timely received a document — it is another thing to confirm what date is actually stamped on the original.

In this decision, the Florida Supreme Court reviewed the Fourth District’s decision and held that where an appellant asserts that the time stamp is incorrect, a district court may refer the matter to the lower court for an evidentiary hearing at which the appellant can attempt to overcome the time stamp’s presumptive correctness. The court rejected the Fourth District’s focus on certainty over accuracy, holding:

While a bright-line rule that the clerk’s stamp is dispositive of the filing date will certainly secure a speedy and inexpensive determination of the action, it will not necessarily secure a just determination. In those rare cases in which a paper is delivered to the clerk’s office within the jurisdictional time frame, but for some reason—through inadvertence or error—is not timely stamped by the clerk, the litigant will be denied a just determination of the action if the litigant is precluded from presenting competent, substantial evidence to prove that the deadline was met. We stated long ago that “[w]hile our procedural rules provide for an orderly and expeditious administration of justice, we must take care to administer them in a manner conducive to the ends of justice.”


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