Summary – Citizens for Public Accountability v. Danville

The California Court of Appeal has ruled on an issue of whether an e-mailed judgment by the Clerk of the Court triggers a 60-day appeal period required under California Rule of Court (CRC) § 8.104(a)(1). Because the rule required mailing, the e-mailed judgment did not trigger the 60-day rule.

The Citizens for Public Accountability petitioned the court for a writ of mandate and an injunction to overturn the Town of Danville’s decision on a residential development project. The court designated the case as a complex litigation case, and ordered that all documents be filed and served through LexisNexis as the Electronic Filing Service Provider (EFSP).

On April 1, 2008 LexisNexis served all parties with a Judgment on the Petition via email stating “You are being served documents that have been electronically submitted in [Citizens for Public Accountability v. Town of Danville] through LexisNexis File and Serve” The e-mail identified the document, and stated that it had been authorized for filing, and to view the document online by accessing the LexisNexis website.

Appellants appealed by filing a Notice of Appeal on June 9, 2008, and Respondents argued that the Notice was not timely, within the 60-day rule.

CRC § 8.104(a) establishes a time with the notice of appeal may be filed as “60 days after the superior court clerk mails the file stamped copy of the judgment.” Respondents argued that the e-mailed judgment was made within the meaning of the rule.

The court defined the word “mail” in the rule by looking at other meanings found in other statutes relating to the service of court documents, and the common use of the word in dictionaries.  They noted that CCP § 415.20 requires service and “thereafter mailing a copy of the summons” … [via] “first class mail, postage prepaid.” Similar wording is found in CCP § 415.30, service of a summons by “first class mail, postage prepaid.”

“Court rules also use “mail” only to mean postal service and use different terms to signify delivery by other means.” CRC 2.300 through 2.306 refers to “fax transmission” and “facsimile transmission”, but not mail. Electronic service, when used for electronically filed documents is defined as the electronic transmission of a document for purposes of service. Five methods of document delivery are specifically distinguished: “mail”, “express mail”, “overnight delivery”, “fax transmission”, and “electronic service.”

Because CRC 8.104(a)(1) must be strictly construed to preserve the right to appeal, the use of the word “mail” must be construed according to its primary meaning to be limited to postal delivery.

The Court order mandating electronic filing and service through the EFSP was not inconsistent with the Court of Appeal ruling. The order addresses what constitutes “service”, not what constitutes “mailing.” “Even if the order provided that electronic transmission constituted “mailing” for purposes of applying civil procedure statutes or rules of court, it would likely be ineffective. (See Rutherford v. Owens-Illinois (1997) 16 Cal.4th 953, 966-968 [trial courts are not authorized to issue local rules that conflict with state law of Judicial Council rules].)”

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