GUIDE TO SERVICE BY EMAIL IN FLORIDA COURTS

By Greg Medalie

Overview

The Florida Supreme Court recently issued a ruling (2012 SC10-2101) that made major changes to the Florida rules of court. The changes become effective September 1, 2012, with the exception of the Criminal, Traffic and Juvenile divisions, for which the effective date is October 1, 2013.

Generally, when a party files a pleading or other document in a court proceeding, he or she must serve copies of the document on the other parties. For certain types of documents, the copies must be served by formal notice or by service of process. More often, copies of documents filed are served by non-formal notice. Currently, such notice is made by mailing or delivering a copy of the document filed, and service by email is not permissible. (See, e.g., Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.080(b) and Fla. Prob. R. 5.041(b).) Once the change take effect, non-formal notice must be made by email, and mailing or delivering copies of the documents will no longer be permissible (subject to certain exceptions). See Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.516(b).

This article provides an overview of the changes and their implications for attorneys. Some details have been simplified or omitted. The primary materials are available through this link.

Rule Changes

The primary change effected by the court ruling is the enactment of a new rule, Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.516 – Service of Pleadings and Documents. This rule requires non-formal notice to be made by email (subject to certain exceptions discussed below). The ruling contains many other changes to the rules. The other changes generally are required or helpful for the implementation of rule 2.516.

For example, the current versions of Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.080, Fla. Prob. R. 5.041 and Fla. Fam. L. R. P. 12.080 are all titled “Service of Pleadings and Papers” and all include descriptions of how non-formal notice is to be made for proceedings in these divisions (i.e., Civil Court, Probate Court and Family Court). Under 2012 SC10-2101, these rules are being revised to state that non-formal service must be made “as set forth in Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.516,” subject to various division-specific exceptions. See, e.g., the revised versions of Fla. Prob. R. 5.041 and Fla. Fam. L. R. P. 12.080.

Another change effected by the Florida Supreme Court ruling is an addition to See Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.515. The revised version requires attorneys to include their email address(es) on all documents filed. Also, the ruling revises Fla. Prob. R. 5.041 to state that “interested persons” in probate proceedings (such as beneficiaries and creditors) shall be deemed parties for the purpose of applying Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.516. This change is necessary to make clear that 2.516 applies to such persons, despite the fact it refers only to notice of parties.

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ on Rule Revisions

Q1: When do the rule changes take effect?

A: September 1, 2012, with the exception of Criminal, Traffic and Juvenile divisions, for which the effective date is October 1, 2013.

Q2: Under what circumstances must I serve copies of documents by email?

A: After the effective date, all documents required or permitted to be served on another party (or on an “interested person,” per Fla. Prob. R. 5.041) must be served by email, unless rule 2.516 either does not apply or provides an exemption.

Rule 2.516 does not apply to the method of service if:

  • A different method for service is required by another law or rule, such as service of process requirement for initial civil pleadings (e.g., 1.070) and formal notice requirements for initial pleadings in adversarial probate proceedings (see Fla. Prob. R. 5.041).
  • There is a court order that specifies a different method for service; or
  • The document being filed is an application for a witness subpoena. See 2.516(a).

The rule exempts the following persons from the email service requirement:

  • An attorney, if a court order in the proceeding exempts him or her due to the lack of an email address and internet access. See 2.516(b)(1)(B).
  • A party (or interested person) who is not represented by an attorney in the proceeding and has not designated an email address for service. See 2.516(b)(1)(C).

Q3: How do I serve a person who is exempt from the email service requirement?

A: By delivering a copy of the document or by mailing it to the person being served. See 2.516(b)(2).

Q4: When serving by email, which email addresses do I use?

A: The one, two or three email addresses designated by each person being served. If an attorney has not designated any email addresses, use the email address for him or her on record with The Florida Bar. To do so, go to www.flabar.org and click “Find a Lawyer”. See 2.516(b)(1)(A).

Q5: What are the requirements for the email messages?

A: These are spelled out in 2.516(b)(1)(E):

  • The subject must state “SERVICE OF COURT DOCUMENT” (in all capital letters) and the case number.
  • The body of the email must include:
    • The court, the case number and the name of the initial party on each side;
    • Your name and telephone number; and
    • The title of each document attached.
  • The attachments must be:
    • In PDF format; and
    • Signed by the attorney with either a written signature or the /s/ format.
  • The size of the email, including attachments, cannot exceed 5 MB. This limit is discussed further in the FAQ on Technical Issues below.

Q6: Do I need to make any changes to my pleadings and other documents?

A: You may need to change your signature block in your form documents. Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.515 will require documents filed to include your primary email address, in addition to your name, address, phone number, Florida Bar number, and signature. You may designate up to 2 up to two secondary email addresses as well. (See Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.515 and Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.516(b)(1)(A).

Q7: How is the date of service by email determined?

A: Service by email is complete when it is sent. See 2.516(b)(1)(D)

Q8: What procedures can I use to reduce the likelihood of errors when serving by email?

A: Consider the following:

  • Use a separate PDF file for each document.
  • Give descriptive names to PDF files (e.g., Motion For Summary Judgment.pdf rather than KMB20120807.pdf)
  • Maintain a list of all the email addresses for service for each proceeding. Copy and paste from the list into the address field of the email. This reduces the likelihood of omissions and typographical errors.
  • In the body of the email, ask the addressee to reply to confirm receipt.
  • Before sending an email, open each attachment to confirm that it is the document you intended and that the document is signed.

Q9: What are the most important parts of the 208 page Supreme Court ruling (2012 SC10-2101)?

A: Focus on the following:

  • The opinion itself, which is the first 10 pages of the ruling. (The remainder of the ruling is an appendix that lists the rule changes.)
  • 2.516(b). Sections (a) and (c) – (h) are similar to the existing Service rules (e.g., Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.080 as well as Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.030, Fla. Prob. R. 5.041, Fla. R. App. P. 9.420 and Fla. Fam. L. R. P. 12.080)
  • The changes to the rules for the divisions in which you practice. Find these by opening the opinion and searching “Rule #”, where # is the first digit of the applicable set of rules. For example, looking at the list of service rules immediately above, you would search “Rule 1” for the rules of civil procedure, “Rule 5” for the probate rules, “Rule 12” for the family law rules, etc.

FAQ on Technical Issues

Q10: How do I create files in PDF format?

A: There are two basic methods.

Scanning: print, sign and scan the document. Most scanners save in PDF format by default, but if yours does not, change the output format setting accordingly.

Direct Conversion: Type in any necessary signatures using “/s/” and convert a word processing file to a PDF file using either of the following techniques:

  • Select File|Save As, then click “Save as Type” to open a list of file types. If PDF (.pdf) shows up as one of the types, select it and save the file. If not, use a different method for creating your PDF files.
  • Open the print dialog box and click to select a printer. If Adobe PDF is listed as one of the printer choices, select it and enter a file name when prompted. If not, use a different method for creating your PDF files.

Q11: How should my scanner be configured?

A: It must be configured to save scanned images in PDF format. The following settings are also helpful to avoid exceeding the 5 MB size limit and to meet the digital accessibility requirements of Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.526

  • Set resolution to 300 dpi.
  • Turn on file compression, if available.
  • If there is an option for choosing between small file size and high quality, choose small file size.
  • Turn on OCR (optical character recognition).
  • Set the option to make the output accessible (e.g., to visually impaired persons), if available.

Q12: How do I determine whether an email exceeds the 5MB size limit?

A: In most email programs, the file size will appear in parentheses after the file name of each attachment. The size is often given in KB. Note that 5 MB (megabytes) is equal to 5,000 KB (kilobytes).

Q13: How can I make a PDF document smaller if my email exceeds 5 MB?

A: Try any one of the following:

  • Re-scan the document using the scanner settings listed above.
  • Create the PDF files using the Direct Conversion method described above (as part of the answer to “How Do I create files in PDF format?”), rather than printing and scanning.
  • If you are attaching multiple documents and each is less than 5MB, divide them among separate email messages, and number the messages sequentially. Include the sequence number in the subject line, e.g., “SERVICE OF COURT DOCUMENT [case number] Part 1 of 3.” See 2.516(b)(1)(E).

Q14: Is there software that would make it easier to work with PDF files?

A: Consider PDF creation software such as Omnipage and Adobe Acrobat, both of which are widely used and highly regarded. Also, most stand-alone scanners include decent PDF creation software.

Q15: How can I get set up with email?

A: If you do not have an email address and account, you can obtain these through Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo. Choose an email address similar to your name, such as firstname.lastname@gmail.com. Once you have an email address, add it to your profile on The Florida Bar website.

20120808


Greg Medalie is an attorney at Medalie & Medalie, PA in Fort Lauderdale. He is the chair of the Probate & Trust Law Section of the Broward County Bar Association, and his practice areas are wills, trusts, estates and business law. He thanks Rohan Kelley and Christin Gallardo for their valuable input on this article.

E.g., pleadings to remove a personal representative per Fla.Prob.R. Rule 5.025.

E.g., upon commencement of a (non-probate) civil action, Fla.R.Civ.P. Rule 1.070.