Stacey Caplan filed a lawsuit against Michael Matte alleging interference with her business relations. Believing that the complaint filed against him was improper, Matte’s legal counsel e-mailed a motion to Caplan seeking attorney’s fees under Section 57.105, Florida Statutes (2013). In accordance with the procedure set forth in section 57.105(4), Matte also served a motion to dismiss on Caplan’s counsel twenty-one days prior to filing his motion to dismiss the complaint and motion for attorney’s fees. Caplan did not dismiss the complaint until after that time. Matte emailed the motion with the subject line stating: “6277 Caplan, Stacey vs. Quepasa Corporation, Inc.: Defendants’ Motion for 57.105 Sanctions.doc.” The body of the e-mail stated: “See attached motion.” Attached was a Word document entitled “Defendants’ Motion for 57.105 Sanctions.doc.” However, this did not comply with the strict requirements of Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.516.
The trial court denied the motion for fees because Matte failed to serve the fee motion in strict compliance with the e-service rule. The Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed.
Whether strict compliance with the e-service rules apply to service under Section 57.105(4) to perfect the right to attorney fees under Section 57.105, Florida Statutes (2013).
The Fourth District held that, despite actual notice of the motion for fees and substantial compliance with the e-service rules, the requirements of Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.516 were not met, precluding sanctions under Section 57.105. Specifically, the e-mail did not: (1) provide a PDF of the motion or a link to the motion on a website maintained by the clerk; (2) contain, in the subject line in all capital letters, the words “SERVICE OF COURT DOCUMENT,” followed by the case number; (3) contain, in the body of the e-mail, the case number, name of the initial party of each side, title of each document served with that e-mail, and the sender’s name and telephone number. Caplan successfully argued before both the trial and appellate courts that these defects were fatal because section 57.105 is to be strictly construed in derogation of the common law.
Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.080(a) provides, “Every pleading subsequent to the initial pleading . . . and every other document filed in the action must be served in conformity with the requirements of Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.516.” (Emphasis added). Rule 2.516(b)(1) provides, “All documents required or permitted to be served on another party must be served by e-mail unless the parties otherwise stipulate or this rule otherwise provides.” (Emphasis added.)
Florida Rule of Judicial Administration Rule 2.516(b)(1)(E) specifies the format for e-mail service:
(E) Format of E-mail for Service. Service of a document by e-mail is made by an e-mail sent to all addresses designated by the attorney or party with either (a) a copy of the document in PDF format attached or (b) a link to the document on a website maintained by a clerk.
(i) All documents served by e-mail must be sent by an e-mail message containing a subject line beginning with the words “SERVICE OF COURT DOCUMENT” in all capital letters, followed by the case number of the proceeding in which the documents are being served.
(ii) The body of the e-mail must identify the court in which the proceeding is pending, the case number, the name of the initial party on each side, the title of each document served with that e-mail, and the name and telephone number of the person required to serve the document.
(iii) Any document served by e-mail may be signed by any of the “/s/”, “/s”, or “s/” formats.
(iv) Any e-mail which, together with its attached documents, exceeds five megabytes (5MB) in size, must be divided and sent as separate e-mails, no one of which may exceed 5MB in size and each of which must be sequentially numbered in the subject line.
This is the first case in which a Florida District Court of Appeal has held that strict adherence to the foregoing service rules is necessary to recovery of attorneys’ fees under Section 57.105.