Timing is Everything: The District of Massachusetts Clarifies Local Rule

In a recent decision denying defendants’ motion for Rule 11 sanctions, the District of Massachusetts interpreted its local rule regarding the district’s filing deadline. The decision gives guidance to litigators regarding the use of the court’s electronic filing system.

Key Takeaway

  • Despite the fact that no Local Rule for the District of Massachusetts expressly addresses the question of after-hours electronic service, the 6:00 p.m. filing deadline provides a “useful—and sensible—analogy for timeliness of electronic service.” Service on opposing parties should generally be filed by 6:00 p.m. of the due date.

Caffeinate Labs, Inc. filed patent infringement and other unfair business practices claims against defendants Vante, Inc. and Alex Shlaferman. One claim alleged infringement of a design patent. The defendants moved to dismiss the design patent infringement claim, and before the court acted on that motion, Caffeinate moved to voluntarily dismiss the design patent infringement claim with prejudice. The defendants then moved for sanctions under Rule 11.

In deciding the Rule 11 motion, the court was asked to decide a unique procedural question regarding whether the District’s Local Rule 5.4(d), requiring that “electronic transmissions of documents be completed prior to 6:00 p.m. to be considered timely filed that day,” also applies to electronic service.According to Rule 11, the moving party must serve the proposed motion on the target opponent and then wait at least 21 days before filing that motion with the court. Failure to wait the full period before moving for sanctions warrants dismissal of the sanctions motion.[1] The relevant chronology is this: The defendants sent Caffeinate’s attorney an email containing a proposed Rule 11 motion for sanctions on Friday, March 17 at 8:55 p.m. The defendants accordingly asserted that service of the motion was completed on March 17, and that the safe harbor period expired on Friday, April 7. According to this view, the safe harbor period expired before Caffeinate filed its motion to withdraw the design patent infringement claim on April 10.

Caffeinate argues that the defendants’ email containing the proposed motion, which was sent at 8:55 p.m. on Friday, March 17, was not seen or read until the following morning and should therefore be treated as having been served on Saturday, March 18. Based on a service date of March 18, the safe harbor period ended on April 10, which is the day that Caffeinate moved to dismiss its design patent claim. On this timeline, Caffeinate withdrew the challenged claim within the safe harbor period, thus protecting it from Rule 11 sanctions.

The court found that the District’s local rule regarding the timely filing of electronic documents provided a “useful—and sensible—analogy for timeliness of electronic service,” and held that Caffeinate withdrew the design patent infringement claim within the safe harbor period, and therefore, sanctions under Rule 11 were not warranted.

[1] See Martins v. Charles Hayden Goodwill Inn Sch., 178 F.R.D. 4, 7 (D. Mass. 1997).

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