State's e-filing law is a model Act

Michigan's new e-filing law is a model act soon to be emulated by many states now developing, or seeking to improve, digital filing of court documents. With the cooperation and vision of the Michigan Supreme Court, the State Legislature passed and the governor signed six bills that will establish and finance a single statewide Electronic Filing System (EFS.)

The Act's funding method will make e-filing a reality for every court, regardless of a court's financial resources at the local level. Moreover, a single statewide e-filing system will dramatically facilitate e-filing for litigants because it will establish a uniform digital platform for all users, employing a single portal for filing documents in any court, thereby eliminating the need for multiple passwords and interfaces which are currently required in courts using proprietary e-filing systems.

Two key provisions of the Act create the groundwork for an effective statewide e-filing system. First, the funding model authorizes the State Court Administrative Office, an arm of the Supreme Court, to manage the financing of the system. Secondly, the Act provides every state court with the opportunity to apply for access to the system and receive funding from SCAO to implement e-filing.

Digital e-filing will be financed solely by litigants, who will pay a modest, one-time Electronic Filing System fee when initiating a court case. Court clerks will remit the new EFS fees to the state treasurer, who will deposit all EFS revenue into the newly established, and separate, Judicial Electronic Filing Fund (JEFF.) SCAO will administer the new fund to implement, maintain, and operate the EFS.

The Act permits any Michigan court to apply to the Supreme Court for access to the EFS. And, if the court accepts the application, SCAO is authorized to use money from the JEFF to "â?¦pay the costs of technological improvements necessary for "that court to operate electronic filing." Accordingly, if a state court is approved for access to the ESF, SCAO can use the new established Judicial Electronic Filing Fund to underwrite an "accepted" court's e-filing expenses for hardware, software and training. This will enable those courts in less wealthy communities to fully participate in this central e-filing system, uniting all 245 Michigan courts under a single e-filing umbrella.

By creating and funding a single statewide Electronic Filing System, available to every court, Michigan will save costs by leveraging economies of scale. Moreover, only the litigants finance the EFS, so there are no new taxes for Michigan citizens. And, by establishing a one-time EFS fee paid when suit is filed, the law eliminates the "pay as you go" e-filing fees that some courts are currently charging for every document e-filed during the life of the lawsuit.

The Act also includes several other "litigant friendly" provisions: The EFS fee is a recoverable taxable cost. The court may waive the fee for indigent parties. And fees for payment via credit card are limited to the "â?¦actual merchant transaction fee to be charged to the courtâ?¦," thus eliminating the nebulous "convenience fee" that some courts have assessed for credit card payments.

Court clerks will begin collecting the new EFS fee beginning March 1, 2016. In the meantime, as provided by the Act, the state Supreme Court and SCAO may select a "qualified vendor" using a competitive bidding process to develop and facilitate the Electronic Filing System. Full implementation will be an ongoing process over the next few years.

The Michigan Supreme Court now has an opportunity to wisely use the new funding model to provide the state with an economical and effective e-filing system for all courts. Once completed, litigants and their lawyers will be able to e-file documents in any Michigan court using one portal, with one password, facilitated by credit card payment.

Published: Fri, Feb 12, 2016