The continuing evolution of electronic-filing in federal and state courts has revolutionized case management in clerks’ offices throughout the country. In order to account for that continuing evolution in Alabama specifically, the Alabama Supreme Court recently adopted amendments to several of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, including Rule 58 governing the rendition and entry of orders and judgments in Alabama state courts. See Ala. R. Civ. P. 58 cmt. (2008). Although the amendments to Rule 58, which went into effect less than a year ago, are seemingly inconsequential, lawyers practicing in Alabama who are unaware of the changes to the Rule could be susceptible to malpractice if they fail to timely appeal based on those changes. Further, while lawyers practicing in Alabama should be particularly cognizant of the changes, lawyers practicing in other states should monitor their own state’s rules to ensure they become aware of any changes similar to those discussed below that might affect the time to take an appeal.
In general, and subject to certain exceptions, a party has six weeks from the day a judgment is entered to file its notice of appeal pursuant to Alabama Rule of Appellate Procedure 4. Under old Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 58, a judgment was not “entered” for purposes of taking an appeal unless and until it was entered into the State Judicial Information System (SJIS), which entry sometimes occurred days or even weeks after the judgment was rendered. Now, however, a judge can render a judgment electronically “by executing and transmitting an electronic document to the electronic-filing system[,]” and a judgment rendered by doing so is “deemed ‘entered’ within the meaning of . . . the Rules of Appellate Procedure as of the date the order or judgment is electronically transmitted by the judge to the electronic-filing system.” Ala. R. Civ. P. 58(c) (emphasis added).
Some Alabama judges may still choose to render judgments the “traditional” way by manually signing the judgment and then having their clerks enter the judgment into the SJIS. Indeed, Rule 58 still provides for that method of rendering and entering judgments. But, in light of the amendments to Rule 58, lawyers practicing before Alabama judges who frequently render orders or judgments electronically should be sure to appropriately calendar the deadline for filing a notice of appeal from the time they receive the electronic dismissal, rather than waiting to do so for the clerk’s entry of the judgment in the SJIS as they might have done in the past. Failure to do so could be fatal to an appeal.