Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Reviewing Procedures and the Rules

I have been reviewing various pleadings around the state recently. I have seen some curious items worthy of discussion. Perhaps someone out there can explain them to me. I initially tended to believe that these were odd and exceptional errors, but the frequency suggests that they are not singular, exceptional filings. 

I find that most of the settlement filings include something labelled "General Document Filing." I cannot find any rule or statute supporting the filing of this superfluous and redundant document. It appears to be a repetition of information from the fee data sheet, the cost data sheet, and the motion itself. Too often, the representations in this redundant document are inconsistent with the other filed documents. There is no statutory or regulatory requirement for a "general document filing." It serves no apparent useful purpose, Yet often there it is, cluttering up the Motion documentation. In one recent filing, I actually found two "General Document Filing." Who can explain the purpose of this unsigned, redundant document?

In several recent Motions, I have seen a "General Release." In a few others, I have found contracts that memorialize an agreement for the employee to "resign employment," and even one to "never apply for employment in the future." This Office has no jurisdiction over such agreements. I cannot find any authority in the rules or statutes for such to be submitted to this Office. 

In fact, the Rules do not allow reference to a general release. Rule 60Q-6.123(1)(c) says "language regarding a general release of all liability or claims shall not be included, and no such general release or separate releases shall be attached." (Emphasis added). In spite of this rule, resignation and release documents are being filed with the OJCC. When this happens, should the entire filing be stricken, and the parties be given another chance to file their motion in compliance with the rules?

And, I have found cover letters. Attorneys are filing a "Motion for Approval" (I open them from the e-JCC docket, which says "Motion for Approval"). And, when I open the document for review the first thing I see is a letter from counsel that says "Judge, this is the parties' Motion for Approval." That makes sense, that is what the docket label said. I knew it was the parties' motion when clicking on the docket entry. What does this cover letter add? Is there a purpose to a cover letter with the motion telling me that it is a motion?

Similarly to the release issue, the Rules do not allow filing of cover letters. Rule 60Q6.103(1)(f) says: "(1) Pleadings. All documents filed with the OJCC shall: (f) Not be accompanied by separate cover letter or correspondence." (Emphasis added). The use of the term "shall" connotes a mandate. So, "shall not" means that there is not supposed to be a cover letter. The cover letter serves no purpose, and it is against the rules. Why are they being filed?

I have also found a fair volume of documents that include large, space-consuming styles. In some instances, half of the first page of each document is wasted with these large case styles. There, volumes of unnecessary and redundant information regarding addresses and phone numbers is presented. The purpose of this information in each and every pleading is unclear. The style of the case can be (should be) very simple and direct, such as this:

In yet another curiosity, I have recently seen documents that stipulate to the jurisdiction of the Office of Judges of Compensation Claims (OJCC) and the "Department of Labor and Employment Security," (DLES). There is no Department of Labor and Employment Security in Florida. There has not been for over 15 years. Last century, the OJCC was part of the DLES, but that agency was eliminated. In 2001, when DLES was eliminated, the Division of Workers' Compensation was transferred to the Department of Financial Services (DFS), and the OJCC was transferred to the Division of Administrative Hearings. The effect or purpose of parties stipulating to the jurisdiction of this non-existent state agency, DLES, is unclear. It suggests that perhaps some very old form files are being relied upon?

And, finally, there remains a curious propensity to file proposed orders with every motion. Proposed orders are not necessary. In fact, the procedural rules actually say that proposed orders are inappropriate in most instances. Rule 60Q6.103 says "(4) Proposed Orders. Except as provided in subsection 60Q-6.115(3), F.A.C., proposed orders shall not be submitted unless requested by the judge. They shall be clearly indexed in the docket as 'proposed orders' and shall be sent to all other parties or, if represented, their attorneys of record prior to being submitted to the judge. Proposed orders shall be a separate document and not be included as a part of a motion." (Emphasis added).

Despite this clear rule, proposed orders embedded within motion filings seem to be the norm. Motion after motion, day after day, I find proposed order after proposed order. What is the point of these?

The Rules make provision for so many points and issues. When a small sample of filings reveals such a population of situations in which the Rules are being ignored is troubling. Why are these letters, releases, and proposed orders being filed? And, what is the appropriate remedy? The purpose of filing a motion is to obtain an order. Reviewing motions consumes a significant portion of every judge's day. The more concise and direct the motion is, the more efficient a judge can be in reviewing it.

Irrelevant chaff within the motion and spread through the accompanying documentation is distracting and time consuming. Every minute spent reading an unnecessary cover letter or "general document filing," or wondering about that "general release" is a minute that could be spent addressing the relevant motion issues and preparing an order for the parties. Distractions like cover letters and proposed orders and general releases do not expedite the review and approval process, they retard and delay it.

Why are the procedural rules ignored? Why is this chaff included? When was the last time your firm asked questions about why and how you do things? When was the last time you reviewed those form files? Are you still referencing non-existent agencies, or relying on Supreme Court procedural rules of yesteryear? Could your process be more efficient and more compliant with the rules?

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