A cautionary tale about courts and the mail

The deadline to respond to a defense motion for summary disposition was coming up fast. So was the hearing on the motion.

Under MCR 2.116(G)(1)(a)(ii), responses, including briefs and affidavits, to a summary disposition motion must be filed and served seven days before the hearing.

Plaintiff’s counsel prepared the response and sent it to defense counsel and the court via United States Postal Service Express mail on a Thursday, the day before the deadline.

The court’s copy was addressed:

Washentaw County Circuit Court
101 E. Huron Street
PO Box 8645
Ann Arbor, MI 48107-8645

This is not idle information. As you will see, the order of things in the address matters. A lot.

Defense counsel got it on Friday. The court got it on Monday. Lacking any timely submitted, substantively admissible evidence from plaintiff, the court granted defendant’s motion and dismissed the case.

Why the discrepancy between when defense counsel and the court got plaintiff’s response?

The USPS delivered plaintiff’s response to both defense counsel and the court on Friday. The problem was the court’s copy was delivered to its post office box at 9:31 a.m. But court personnel had already picked up the box mail for the day. So the response sat over the weekend until Monday, when it was picked up and later stamped “filed” at the court.

In affirming the trial court’s dismissal of the case, the Michigan Court of Appeals, in Luke v. Valley Ranch Apartments, said this:

Plaintiff’s argument that the court should have considered her late filing is not based on the language of the court rule. The response was not filed on time and we decline to hold that “received at the post office box” is equivalent to “filed.”

Nor is there an express exception in the court rule for a good-faith effort. Counsel should have realized that the response was mailed to the post office, and not to the court itself. Counsel could have called the court to discover when it would pick up the mail, or called at some point Friday afternoon to see if it had been received, but failed to do so.

But wait. How was counsel to know the response went to the post office box instead of the street address?

The court didn’t provide an explanation.

I called my local friendly postmaster and learned this: If everything works as it should, the USPS automatic sorting equipment scans the city, state zip code line, and then scans one line above that information for the precise delivery location. So, if the line above is a street address, the mail goes there. If it’s a post office box, the mail goes there.

You learn something new everyday.

All in favor of state-wide court e-filing, raise your hands.

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