N.Y. Law Expands Practice of E-Filing

Eric T. Schneiderman

August 12, 2009

The New York Legislature has set the stage for an expansion of the use of computers and facsimile machines to file notice of service and papers in civil actions throughout New York.

The bill, given final approval last week by the Senate, would allow electronic filing in most civil cases in Supreme Court, Surrogate’s Court, the Court of Claims and New York City Civil Court, with the parties’ consent and the approval of the state’s chief administrative judge.

The current law limits voluntary civil e-filing to certain case types in designated counties and courts.

The new legislation, A8956/S6003, also allows Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau to set up rules for mandatory electronic filing for some commercial cases in Manhattan Supreme Court as well as for tort cases in Westchester County and in an upstate county yet to be designated.

E-filing has never been mandatory in state courts in New York.

The legislation is designed to build on limited e-filing pilot programs that have been run in some civil courts over the past decade. Among the courts where e-filing is now allowed, with the parties’ consent, are Supreme courts in all five New York City boroughs, plus Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties.

It is also allowed voluntarily in Surrogate’s Courts in five counties, including Queens and Suffolk.

The bill, approved 51-5 by the Senate last Thursday, also passed in the Assembly in June. Legislative sponsors said Governor David A. Paterson is expected to sign the measure into law.

The bill was introduced at the behest of the Unified Court System and was one of the judiciary’s top legislative priorities in 2009.

The latest temporary extender of the e-filing program, approved in 2005, is set to expire on Sept. 1, 2009.

The legislation approved last week makes e-filing permanent in courts to be designated by the chief administrative judge and eliminates the need for lawmakers to extend the program in the future.

Court administrators said the acceptance of mandatory e-filing for both civil and criminal courts in the federal court system in New York since the mid-2000s, plus the increased use of electronic filing in state courts where it has been allowed, have convinced them that the time is right for an expansion of the state system.

“What has happened over time is it has been gaining momentum,” said Ronald P. Younkins, chief of operations for the Unified Court System. “In part, it reflects the fact that the bar is getting more used to doing business this way because that is the way the federal courts do business. Over time, everybody, the entire bar, is becoming more comfortable with working online and not just in the legal world. People are more comfortable on how to do it and with the security issues.”

Younkins said there is no timetable at the Unified Court System for adoption of mandatory e-filing, which he said the state court system is currently not equipped to handle. He said the system would work “very carefully” and “very deliberately” to implement the new legislation, especially the mandatory e-filing requirement in the three counties.

“As we proceed to implement this legislation, we will do so carefully, consulting with county clerks, local bar associations, judges and the affected courts,” Judge Pfau said in a statement. “By authorizing a new program that allows us to require e-filing in three counties for specific types of cases, the legislation makes significant progress toward taking full advantage of technology to make the justice system more efficient and cost-effective.”

The legislation was sponsored by Codes Committee Chairman Eric Schneiderman, D-Manhattan. The bill’s chief sponsor in the Assembly was Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Helene Weinstein, D-Brooklyn.

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