If you have a claim against a decedent’s estate, then under Section 733.702(1) of the Florida Statutes such claim MUST be filed within the later of 3 months after publication of the notice to creditors or 30 days after receipt of the notice to creditors. Electronic filing (“e-filing”) became mandatory in Florida on April 1, 2103. With few exceptions (such as an original Last Will and Testament) all documents are filed with the court electronically through an e-portal system. What happens if you file a claim via PAPER on the last day? Is the claim valid? A recent court decision said no!
In United Bank v. Estate of Frazee, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court decision that filing a claim by paper on the last day of the claims period is not a valid filing of the claim and the claim was barred. The claim should have been filed electronically.
Mr. Frazee died on December 24, 2012 and the notice to creditors was published on February 14, 2013 and the Bank received a copy of the notice on April 11, 2013. Thus, the deadline to file a claim was the later of 3 months after the first date of publication or 30 days after receipt of the claim . The clerk received 2 statements of claims claim via certified mail on May 14 which was within the required time frame. On May 23 the clerk notified the Bank that the claim had to be filed electronically. The Bank filed the claims electronically and the clerk accepted the claims as filed correctly on June 22, 2013, with a filing date of May 23, 2013.
The court determined that the claims were late and did not meet the exceptions of fraud, estoppel, or insufficient notice of the claims period provided under Section 733.701(3) of the Florida statutes for an extension of time.
Florida Rule of Judicial Administration (“FRJA”) 2.520(a) mandates e-filing. The Bank argued that , even though e-filing is mandated by FRJA 2.520(a), under FRJA 2.520(f), the clerk should have accepted the paper filing as “[n]o clerk of court shall refuse to file any document because of noncompliance with this rule” and the claim was properly filed on the last day permitted under the law.
Attorneys for the estate argued that e-filing became mandatory in Florida on April 1, 2103. FRJA 2.525(d) provides the only exceptions to the e-filing requirements and none were applicable. Further, FRJA 2.520(f) ONLY applies to errors in formatting and other technical rules. Such rule should not be used as a loophole allowing an attorney to circumvent the e-filing requirement.
The appellate court agreed with the trial court that if FRJA 2.520(f) applied to the facts of this case, then all lawyers would be able to file pleadings by paper and circumvent the requirements of e-filing. The court then analyzed the FRJA and it’s history. Ultimately, the claims were not allowed and the appellate court agreed with the trial court that the “failure to file was a result of the negligence and lack of knowledge of the attorney, who is licensed in Florida, despite working in another state, and those excuses did not amount to justice requiring the court to allow the late filing of the claims.”
A dissent was written by Justice Klingensmith arguing that FRJA 2.520(f) is found in the same rule as the requirement of e-filing of FRJA 2.520(a) so that (f) should apply to (a) and that the clerk should have allowed the claim.
Unfortunately the Bank lost and the Bank’s attorney is probably having to contact his or her malpractice carrier!
ADVICE: All attorneys should annually attend continuing education classes and if you practice in an area, make sure that you are up to date on court requirements. Your paralegals and associates should also attend these seminars. Also, join and attend the Florida Bar Real Property Probate and Trust Law Section (“RPPTL”) committee meetings. E-fiing has been discussed extensively over the past few years. Mandatory e-filing means mandatory e-filing!!!!
WORD OF THE WEEK: Estoppel is a bar or inability to assert a claim or right that contradicts what the claimant has said or done before. For example, assume I owe Sally $10,000 which is due on September 1, 2016. Sally agrees,in writing, to give me an extension and I don’t have to pay her until October 1, 2016. If Sally sues me on September 10, 2016, she is “estopped” from making that claim because her lawsuit contradicts her prior conduct of granting me the extension.
GENEROSITY IS A KEY TO HAPPINESS …REACH OUT AND HELP SOMEONE TODAY! 😎