Case on a Wire – Last Minute Fax Filing

The Louisiana Supreme Court recently held that a request for service of process made by facsimile filing within ninety days from the filing of the petition, but not perfected until after the ninety days has passed, is a timely request for service of process under LSA-C.C.P. art. 1201. See Brenda Morales and Jerson Rodriguez v. State of Louisiana Through the Board of Supervisors of LSU Through Earl K. Long Medical Center, 12-2301 (La. 1/11/13), –So.3d—.

In reaching its decision, the Morales court addressed whether Louisiana’s Facsimile Filing Statute, LSA- R.S. 13:850, required both the payment of fees and the receipt of the original request for service before service is considered to have been requested. Under Louisiana procedure, the petitioner has 90 days to request service upon all defendants. See LSA-C.C.P. art. 1201. When service is not timely requested, the case can be involuntarily dismissed without prejudice on the motion of another party. See LSA-C.C.P. art. 1672(C). This dismissal can result in a later bar to the claim if the re-filed suit is then prescribed and the defendants can show bad faith in the failure to request service or the suit involves a claim against the state or a political subdivision of the state.

In Morales, the Louisiana First Circuit had found that the request for service was not timely because the fax filing fees were not paid by the attorney until after the ninetieth day. The First Circuit relied on the Louisiana Supreme Court’s previous ruling in Trachant v. State of Louisiana, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, 08-0978 (La. 1/21/09), 5 So.3d 832 which stated that “[a] valid request for service under La. R.S. 13:6107(D)(1) is made when the clerk receives the request for service and can then act on it.” The First Circuit reasoned that a clerk cannot act upon a request for service when there is no original request and the corresponding fees had not been paid. However, Trachant did not involve fax filing and instead considered whether a request for service is effective when it is placed in the mailbox or when it is received by the clerk. This is sometimes referred to as the “mailbox rule.” The Trachant court held that actual receipt of the request was required.

The Louisiana Supreme Court in Morales disagreed with the First Circuit and found that the clerk can “act upon” receipt of the facsimile filing. The Court emphasized that LSA- R.S. 13:850(A) provides that a facsimile filing “shall be deemed complete at the time that the facsimile transmission is received and a receipt of transmission has been transmitted to the sender by the clerk of court.” The Morales Court harmonized its ruling with Trachant by finding that the Court has always held that the receipt of the request must occur within the 90 day period.

Even after Morales, a request for service of process should be followed by the prompt mailing of the original signed document and the required transmission fee. However, Morales indicates that Louisiana’s highest court is likely to give consideration to preserving a claim when interpreting the otherwise strict requirements of Louisiana’s Facsimile Filing Statute.