“Spam Filter Ate My Electronic Filing Notice” Plaintiffs Get Another Chance — Shuey v. Schwab

[Post by Venkat]

The “spam filter ate my electronic filing notice” excuse was an inevitable byproduct of the CM/ECF electronic filing system now in place in federal courts. As expected, courts have not been very sympathetic to this excuse. In an unpublished decision, the Third Circuit gave a party who advanced this excuse another chance. (The case caption is Shuey v. Schwab, Case No. 08-4727 (3rd Cir.; November 3, 2009). Here’s a link to the Justia page.)

Plaintiffs brought civil rights claims against a township and certain police officers alleging excessive force. Defendants moved to dismiss. Plaintiffs failed to respond. The court issued an order directing plaintiffs to respond or “otherwise communicate with the court.” Plaintiffs did not respond to this order either, and the court dismissed the action with prejudice. After the dismissal was entered, plaintiffs sought reconsideration, alleging among other things that their failure to respond was caused by “technological error.” Specifically, counsel “explained that the court’s electronically filed order was errantly tagged as ‘spam’ in counsel’s email system and therefore was never delivered.” The district court denied plaintiffs’ request for reconsideration.

On appeal, the Third Circuit reversed, holding that before dismissing a case as a sanction the trial court must engage in some sort of merits analysis. The court’s ruling doesn’t directly address the “spam filter ate my CM/ECF notice” excuse, but gives the lawsuit a small dose of oxygen.

Although I’m sure we’ll see parties continue to assert this excuse, I don’t think courts will be very sympathetic. I guess common sense is the best advice here. Get a good spam filter and whitelist all domain names through which you are likely to receive electronic notices. When all else fails, keep track of your cases by checking PACER (or RECAP) once in a while!

Related: You can see my take on the ruling below here: “The Spam Filter Ate My CM/ECF Notice?,” and posts on other cases where parties have asserted this excuse here (Russo v. Network Solutions, Inc.), here (American Boat Company, Inc. v. United States), and here (Stewart v. Avaya, Inc.).