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Seventh Circuit Finds Appeal is Timely Despite E-Filing Error

On May 3, 2010, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Wisconsin prisoner’s appeal was timely even though it was filed past the deadline due to an electronic filing error.

Scot Vince, a longtime informant for Rock County, Wisconsin law enforcement agencies, was assaulted by another prisoner while held at the Rock County Jail. Vince subsequently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming he should not have been placed in the jail’s general population. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin granted summary judgment to the defendants on February 10, 2010.

On March 12, 2010 – the last day of the 30-day time limit – Vince’s attorney filed a notice of appeal using the court’s mandatory e-filing system. However, his attorney used the wrong event code. The court clerk notified the attorney about the error, who filed a corrected notice of appeal six days later on March 18, 2010.

The delay caused the Seventh Circuit’s staff to question the timeliness of Vince’s appeal. Citing previous case law, the appellate court ruled that the failure of Vince’s attorney to transmit the notice of appeal without the proper event code was “an error of form”; therefore, Vince’s appeal was considered timely despite the tardy filing.

Even so, the Court of Appeals admonished attorneys to be careful when electronically filing pleadings and to learn the proper procedures for e-filing. Quoting an old adage, the Seventh Circuit remarked that “‘a computer lets you make mistakes faster than any invention in human history – with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.’” See: Vince v. Rock County, 604 F.3d 391 (7th Cir. 2010).

On the merits of the appeal, on November 18, 2010 the Seventh Circuit held the district court had properly determined that Vince had sued the wrong parties. Instead of suing the jail staff, “he sued Tom Niman, an investigator for a local prosecutor’s office, and Lorenzo Henderson, the police officer who arrested him – plus Rock County (which employed Niman) and the City of Beloit (which employed Henderson). Neither Niman nor Henderson decided to put Vince in the general population rather than administrative segregation; neither Niman nor Henderson knew that any other inmate had threatened Vince.”

As for the city and county, “they are responsible for their own policies, but not vicariously liable for the guards’ conduct. See Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978).”

Further, “Vince has not cited any judicial decision supporting the proposition that local governments are constitutionally obliged to credit every incoming prisoner’s unsupported claim to be at risk as an informant, and to provide a foolproof system of protecting each inmate from others who may have learned that a newcomer’s loyalties are not entirely with the criminals,” the Court of Appeals wrote. Accordingly, the district court’s summary judgment order was affirmed. See: Vince v. Rock County, 410 Fed.Appx. 970 (7th Cir. 2010) (unpublished).

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Related legal cases

Vince v. Rock County

Vince v. Rock County