Do you want to know what keeps lawyers awake at night? It’s worrying about missed deadlines. Most lawyers have docketing software and procedures to ensure that all court deadlines are properly noted. But what happens if a software glitch prevents the lawyer from even knowing about the deadline? A federal appeals court in Texas answered that question this week.
Kevin Rollins worked at a Home Depot in Texas. In February 2018, Rollins hurt his back while unloading a heavy bathtub by himself. He says that Home Depot was at fault for not providing him with help. Home Depot denied they were at fault and said Rollins ignored his supervisor and that they had provided training in proper lifting techniques.
When the parties couldn’t settle, Rollins filed a lawsuit.
The lawsuit was moved by Home Depot from state court to federal court. As is typical in all federal courts, the parties agreed to use the court’s electronic filing system. On May 7, 2020, Home Depot filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to have Rollins’ case dismissed. Notice of that motion was sent by the court’s electronic system. No one argues that the court’s system malfunctioned or that the proper notice wasn’t sent.
Rollins’ attorney instead argues that because of a glitch in his email system, the notice never went to his inbox. We aren’t quite sure if it went to SPAM or some other mail folder. Either way, Rollins’ lawyer never saw the notice and therefore never filed a timely response with the court.
By the time the mistake was uncovered, the court had already granted Home Depot’s motion and dismissed Rollins’ case. Rollins lawyer immediately appealed.
Unfortunately for Rollins, he will never receive his day in court. A three judge appeals court panel ruled the trial judge acted appropriately in dismissing the case. While the court believed Rollins’ lawyer was telling the truth about problems with his email server, those problems did not rise to the level of excusable neglect.
In the words of the court,
“To be sure, we do not question the good faith of Rollins’s counsel. But it is not manifest error to deny relief when failure to file was within [Rollins’s] counsel’s reasonable control. Notice of Home Depot’s motion for summary judgment was sent to the email address that Rollins’s counsel provided. [Court rules provide] for service by filing [the pleading] with the court’s electronic-filing system and explain that service is complete upon filing or sending. That rule was satisfied here. Rollins’s counsel was plainly in the best position to ensure that his own email was working properly—certainly more so than either the district court or Home Depot.”
While the result is certainly harsh, it points out how even a tiny mistake can lead to a legal malpractice claim. And missed deadlines are a leading cause of missed deadlines.
What happened to Rollins’ lawyer could happen to any lawyer. That is why smart lawyers carry legal malpractice insurance.
Kevin Rollins certainly has a malpractice claim against his lawyer but still must prove that if his lawyer had timely responded to the motion, he would have ultimately won the case. Missing a deadline is one of the most frequent causes of legal malpractice claims.
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We and our network of legal malpractice lawyer have helped people all over the United States. To learn more, visit our missed deadlines and legal malpractice information pages. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online, by email [hidden email] or by phone 877-858-8018. All inquiries are without obligation and kept completely confidential.