Summary of Mandatory Electronic Filing in the California Courts of Appeal

Appeal Pen

There are six appellate districts in California. As of January 2020all appellate districts in California require parties represented by attorneys to electronically file and serve appellate documents in all civil, criminal, juvenile or original proceedings. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.71, subd. (a-b).).

CA Appellate Districts Map

However, self-represented parties in the Courts of Appeal may, but cannot be ordered to, electronically serve or file documents. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.71, subd. (b).) If a self-represented party does not e-File, any brief that is filed in paper form must continue to comply with California Rules of Court, rules 8.40, 8.44, 8.204 and 8.212.

Every Appellate District utilizes TrueFiling, an online electronic filing system that functions similarly to the ECF system in the federal courts. By registering, attorneys agree to be served electronically with any item filed in the appeal. Documents displaying the symbol “/s/” with the attorney’s or party’s printed name are deemed signed by that person. The Courts of Appeal have created a helpful Guide to Creating Electronic Appellate Documents.

For more information, refer to California Rules of Court 8.70 through 8.80 regarding electronic filing and service in the Courts of Appeal.

An experienced freelance attorney can help you prepare and format your appellate documents for electronic filing and service.

2020 Summary of Mandatory e-Filing in California Superior Courts

The California counties which, as of December 2020mandate some type of e-Filing include:

  • Butte County: As of 2017, e-Filing is now mandatory for all civil, probate, juvenile dependency, and family law cases pursuant to Local Rule 21. 
  • Fresno County: E-Filing is now mandatory for all civil, family law and probate cases.
  • Imperial County: As of January 2020, e-Filing is now mandatory for all civil, probate, family law, family support, small claims and adoptions cases pursuant to Local Rule 2.18.
  • Kern County: Pursuant to Local Rule 1.10, e-Filing is now mandatory for all civil, California Environmental Quality Act, Civil writ, and unlawful detainer cases. E-Filing is also mandatory in all family law cases, with some exceptions for cases involving the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, or an attorney representing a minor in a family law proceeding.
  • Monterey County: Pursuant to Local Rule 1.6, e-Filing is now mandatory in all cases, excepting appellate department cases.
  • Orange County: As of January 2013, and pursuant to Local Rules 352 and 01, respectively, all documents filed by attorneys in probate and civil cases must be filed electronically, unless the Court excuses parties from the e-Filing requirements or an exception is specified on the Court’s website.
  • San Diego County: San Diego County Superior Court mandates e-Filing for civil class actions, some consolidated and coordinated actions, and actions that are provisionally complex, including Construction Defect, Antitrust/Trade Regulation, Mass Tort, Environmental/Toxic Tort and Securities Litigation cases.
  • San Francisco County: Pursuant to Local Rule 2.11, e-Filing is mandatory for all single-assignment cases, complex cases, general civil cases (with the exception of small claims cases), misdemeanor appeals, misdemeanor writs, and ex parte applications involving misdemeanor convictions. Pursuant to Local Rule 14.93, e-Filing is also mandatory for all probate and trust cases. Notwithstanding Local Rules 2.11 and 14.93, the initial pleadings or ex parte petitions, if applicable, must be filed in hard copy. All documents thereafter may be electronically filed.
  • San Luis Obispo: As of January 2017, and pursuant to Local Rule 31.06, e-Filing is mandatory for all civil case types, including limited and unlimited cases, small claims cases, probate and guardianship cases, family law cases, family support cases, and adoption and mental health cases.
  • San Mateo County: E-filing is mandatory for all civil, complex civil, small claims and unlawful detainer cases. As of January 2020, e-Filing is mandatory for all family law and probate cases. As of June 2020, e-Filing is also mandatory in criminal cases for all documents filed after the initial complaint. E-Filing is governed by Local Rule 2.1.7. 
  • Santa Barbara County: As of January 2016, and pursuant to Local Rule 1012, e-Filing is mandatory for all documents presented for filing in all civil cases, including limited, unlimited, complex, small claims, family law and probate cases.
  • Santa Clara County: Pursuant to Local Rule 6(B)(1), e-Filing is mandatory for all parties represented by attorneys in all civil cases, including family law cases, juvenile dependency cases and probate cases..
  • Santa Cruz County: Pursuant to Local Rule 1.3, e-Filing is required for civil, family, dependency and LPS cases. E-filing is required for appellate cases, except for felony appellate filings. E-Filing is also mandatory in juvenile justice and criminal cases, for all documents filed subsequent to the initial pleading.
  • Sonoma County: As of January 2020, and pursuant to Local Rules 18.22-18.23., e-Filing is required for all civil matters, probate matters and family law matters, including Department of Child Support Services cases.
  • Stanislaus County: As of January 2020, and pursuant to Local Rule 1.14, e-Filing is mandatory in all civil cases, including limited, unlimited, complex, family law, and probate.
  • Sutter County: As of July 2017, and pursuant to Local Rule 2.2, e-Filing is mandatory in all civil cases (except small claims cases), probate cases and family law cases. 
  • Yuba County: As of July 2018, e-Filing is mandatory in all probate, family law, juvenile dependency and civil cases, including complex unlimited, limited and small claims cases.

Counties which do not mandate any e-Filing include:

  • San Bernardino County: As of December 2020, San Bernardino County still does not mandate any e-filing in any type of case.

Note that in all California superior courts, self-represented litigants are exempt from mandatory e-Filing.California Rule of Court, Rule 2.253 subd. (b)(2). Furthermore, parties facing undue hardship or significant prejudice may apply for an exemption from any mandatory e-Filing. California Rule of Court, Rule 2.253 subd. (b)(4). California Rules of Court 2.250 through 2.261 address e-Filing and e-Service.

Summary of Mandatory e-Filing in California Superior Courts

Court Files

The California counties which, as of December 2015, mandate some type of e-Filing include:

Contra Costa. E-Filing is now mandatory on most Complex Litigation cases.

Orange. As of January 1, 2013, Orange County Superior Court mandates e-Filing for all documents filed in limited, unlimited and complex civil actions. (See CCP § 1010.6 and Local Rule 352.) On September 3, 2013, Orange County Superior Court mandated that all documents (with some exceptions) for Probate and Mental Health must be e-Filed. (See Local Rule 601.01.)

San Diego. San Diego County Superior Court mandates e-Filing for Provisionally Complex cases, such as Antitrust, Construction Defect, Mass Tort, Environmental/Toxic Tort and Securities Litigation Cases, class actions, and consolidated and coordinated actions where all cases involved are imaged cases. For mandated e-Filing cases, San Diego Superior Court has designated One Legal as the court-approved e-Filing vendor.

San Francisco. On December 8, 2014, San Francisco Superior Court made e-Filing mandatory for all General Civil case types, Asbestos, and Complex Litigation except Limited Unlawful Detainer and Small Claims cases. On November 2, 2015, San Francisco Superior Court extended mandatory e-Filing to all Probate Trust cases. E-Filing rules are contained in San Francisco Superior Court Local Rule 2.10. E-Filing Probate rules may be found in local rule 14.100. Under Local Rule 14.100 (e), mandatory E-Service does not apply to Probate filings. Case initiating documents (complaints) must still be physically filed in the San Francisco Court Clerk’s Office.

San Luis Obispo. Effective January 1, 2016, e-Filing will be mandatory in San Luis Obispo Superior Court for all limited civil and all probate case types. (See also Local Rules 31.01-31.05.)

Santa Clara. E-Filing is mandatory for all actions provisionally designated as complex pursuant to CRC 3.400(c), and all actions classified by the Complex Litigation Judge as Complex Litigation. See Local Civil Rule 16.

Note that in all California superior courts, self-represented litigants are exempt from mandatory e-FilingCalifornia Rule of Court, Rule 2.253 subd. (b)(2). Furthermore, parties facing undue hardship or significant prejudice may apply for an exemption from any mandatory e-Filing. California Rule of Court, Rule 2.253 subd. (b)(4). California Rules of Court 2.250 through 2.261 address e-filing and e-service.

Note that this blog post did not address permissive e-Filing, as many Superior Courts permit, but do not necessarily mandate e-Filing.

Caution: The e-Filing landscape is rapidly changing, as many Superior Courts in California are planning to accept or mandate e-Filing. You should always research the most current rules. An experienced freelance attorney can help you with the latest e-Filing requirements.

Failing to screen complaints for SLAPPable matter: an expensive mistake

SLAPP!

In the excitement to “tell their story” in a complaint, pro se litigants and even attorneys often fail to screen for SLAPPable matter in a complaint, which can lead to very expensive mandatory attorneys’ fees and costs if a defendant prevails on an anti-SLAPP motion aka special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16.

CCP § 425.16, subd. (b)(1) provides that “[a] cause of action against a person arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States Constitution or the California Constitution in connection with a public issue shall be subject to a special motion to strike, unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established that there is a probability that the plaintiff will prevail on the claim.”

Once an anti-SLAPP motion is filed, the complaint cannot be amended (Simmons v. Allstate (2001) 92 Cal.App.4th 1068, 1073-1074), nor can the action be dismissed and re-filed. (Liu v. Moore (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 745, 749-752.) Once a complaint is filed and served, Plaintiff is stuck with it for anti-SLAPP purposes. Defendants prevailing on a SLAPP motion (including any subsequent SLAPP appeal) are entitled to a mandatory award of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. But a plaintiff who successfully opposes an anti-SLAPP motion is not entitled to any attorney’s fees or costs, unless it can show that the motion was frivolous.

To illustrate, consider a hypothetical situation involving online/cyber defamation:

A breach of contract dispute arose between two companies specializing in online marketing. Defendant company’s president failed to file a timely responsive pleading. Plaintiff took the president’s default, which was never vacated because the case was stayed and transferred to a different state under a forum selection clause. Plaintiff then created multiple web pages showing the case docket and highlighting the entry of default against the Defendant company’s president. Plaintiff even registered domain names bearing Defendant company’s name in order to further direct the public to information about the parties’ lawsuit. Plaintiff also used its SEO and online marketing skills to ensure that anyone searching online for Defendant company or its president would find the web pages created by Plaintiff showcasing the lawsuit and the president’s default. Clearly, Plaintiff is trying to deter anyone from hiring or contracting with Defendant company.

Defendant wants to file a lawsuit to force Plaintiff to remove the web pages. But the webpages essentially draw public attention to the lawsuit’s docket, which is a public record. The complaint filed to force the removal of the websites is a potential minefield of SLAPPable matter.

In Collier v. Harris (August 5, 2015) _ Cal.App.4th _ , 2015 WL 5121082, a case with similar facts, Defendant registered plaintiff’s name, and the name of an advocacy group she formed as domain names, and then redirected all Internet users who visited those Web sites to the Web sites for the school board candidates defendant supported. Plaintiff sued, alleging defendant registered the domain names and illegally used them to mislead the public into thinking plaintiff supported defendant’s candidates. The Court of Appeal found that registering the domain names of a school board candidate and redirecting Internet users to the other Web sites assisted defendant in exercising his free speech rights because those acts provided him with additional forums to reach the public with information about the school board candidates. See also the unpublished case of Ocean’s Eleven Casino v. Anders, 2014 WL 1864487 (Cal. Ct. App. May 9, 2014), in which the Court of Appeal held that a gripe website qualified as a public forum. So even when conduct seems clearly “wrong”, such as registering domain names in your company’s name, there still exists a great risk of including SLAPPable matter in a complaint.

Here is a list of common causes of action that often indicate the presence of potentially SLAPPable matter:

  • Defamation
  • False light
  • Invasion of privacy
  • Malicious prosecution or abuse of process
  • Intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress regarding statements made to the plaintiff (e.g., verbal abuse)
  • Interference with economic advantage

However, even a simple breach of contract or declaratory relief action may be a SLAPP suit. (See, e.g., Navellier v. Sletten (2002) 29 Cal.4th 82; Equilon Enterprises LLP v. Consumer Cause, Inc. (2002) 29 Cal.4th 53.)

Therefore it is critical that plaintiffs identify any and all anti-SLAPP issues prior to filing the complaint. To avoid malpractice suits, Plaintiffs’ attorneys should inform their clients of all potential SLAPPable matter in the complaint, advise the client of the risks and expenses associated with anti-SLAPP motions, and advise that supporting evidence needs to be produced up front.

If a defendant does file an anti-SLAPP motion, plaintiff must take it extremely seriously and be prepared to conduct discovery in order to marshal evidence that: (1) the claims do not arise from protected activity; (2) plaintiff has a probability of prevailing on its claims; (3) at minimum, that plaintiff can raise a triable issue of fact as to each of its claims. (See CCP § 425.16, subd. (g).)

An experienced freelance attorney can help you draft or screen your complaint for SLAPPable matter. Losing an anti-SLAPP motion subjects the plaintiff to mandatory attorney fees and costs and exposes plaintiff’s attorney to a potential malpractice suit.

Federal Court: Does Twombly/Iqbal apply to affirmative defenses?

Federal Courtroom

A court may strike affirmative defenses under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) if they present an “insufficient defense, or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” The question is: can the Iqbal/Twombly pleading standards be applied to strike affirmative defenses in California district courts?

In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. 1955 (2007) the Supreme Court raised the bar for federal court plaintiffs by clarifying the standard for deciding motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Previously, a claim would be dismissed only if it appeared “beyond doubt that the plaintiff [could] prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” Id. at 1968. Twombly rejected this standard in favor of a rule requiring a complaint to state “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible”—not merely “conceivable.” Id. at 1974. A “plausible” claim under Twombly requires stating “enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence [of the alleged wrongdoing].” Id. at 1965-66. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1953 (2009), the Supreme Court clarified that Twombly applied to all civil complaints, and not just antitrust suits.

The Ninth Circuit has not squarely ruled on the issue of whether Twombly/Iqbal applies to affirmative defenses and district courts in the Ninth Circuit are split on the issue. Compare, e.g., Barnes v. AT&T Pension Benefit Plan-Nonbargained Program, 718 F.Supp.2d 1167, 1172 (N.D. Cal. 2010)(holding the heightened pleading standard Twombly/Iqbal applies to affirmative defenses); Kohler v. Island Rests., LP, 280 F.R.D. 560 (S.D. Cal. Feb. 16, 2012)(declining to extend Twombly/Iqbal pleading standards to affirmative defenses); Garber v. Mohammadi, No. CV 10–7144–DDP (RNB), 2011 WL 2076341 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 19, 2011) (Twombly/Iqbal not applied); Burton v. Nationstar Mortg., LLC, No. CV-F-13-0307-LJO-GSA, 2013 WL 4736838 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 3, 2013)(Twombly/Iqbal not applied).

When California District Courts have applied Twombly/Iqbal to affirmative defenses, they have said that “[w]hile a defense need not include extensive factual allegations in order to give fair notice, bare statements reciting mere legal conclusions may not be sufficient.” Perez v. Gordon & Wong Law Grp., P.C., No. 11-3323, 2012 WL 1029425, at *8 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 26, 2012)(internal quotation marks omitted)). A defendant’s pleading of affirmative defenses must put a plaintiff on notice of the underlying factual bases of the defense. Perez, supra, 2012 WL 1029425, at *8 (internal quotation marks omitted).

However, even if your court does not apply Twombly/Iqbal to them, the affirmative defenses must still meet California’s traditional “fair notice” standard.

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