May 4, 2018

The Fourth District Court Of Appeal Disapproves The Clerk Of The Court’s Practice Of Backdating Judgments

In Guy v. Plaza Home Mortgage, Inc., Case No. 4D17-3335 (Fla. 4th DCA Apr. 25, 2018), the summary judgment hearing in a foreclosure case was held on an afternoon in September of 2017. However, the lower tribunal’s clerk’s office’s electronic time stamp revealed that the final judgment was filed approximately five hours before the scheduled hearing.

In appealing the final judgment, the Appellant filed a motion to correct the record on appeal. The Fourth DCA ordered the Broward County Clerk’s office to file a response to the motion and for the Appellee to file a response to the clerk’s office’s response. The response from the clerk’s office stated that the stamp indicates the time that the clerk’s office scanned the judgment for processing to the electronic case management system. In reviewing the information contained in the Appellee’s response, the Fourth DCA explained that when the clerk’s office receives the final judgment after the date of entry, the clerk’s office backdates the date of filing to match the date of the judgment’s entry but the time reflects the actual time of scanning.

Therefore, it appears that the clerk’s office, in Guy, received the final judgment subsequent to the date of entry. While the clerk’s time stamp apparently reflected the actual time of scanning, the stamp’s date was backdated to the date of the entry of the judgment. As a result, the electronic stamp on the final judgment appeared to indicate that the document was filed before the actual entry of the judgment.

The Fourth DCA’s motion panel decided to issue a written opinion on the motion to correct the record, to disapprove the practice of the Clerk’s office of Broward County as such practice conflicts with Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.020(i). The Fourth DCA explained that the time for an appeal runs from the date of rendition, which is the date that the clerk’s office receives an order or judgment, not the date the judgment is signed by the judge. SeeFla. R. App. P. 9.020(i) (defining “rendition” of an order as occurring “when a signed, written order is filed with the clerk of the lower tribunal”). The Court added, “By backdating the electronic filing stamp, the clerk changes the rendition date, possibly to the prejudice of an appellant. . . . It can cause, at best, confusion, and at worst, a loss of appellate rights.”

The Fourth DCA denied the motion to correct the record, as it found that the Appellant in Guy was not deprived of his appellate rights in that particular case. “We nevertheless disapprove of this practice as it is inconsistent with the appellate rules,” the opinion concluded. The opinion did not decide the merits of the appeal as the opinion was issued before the Initial Brief was filed. The opinion is not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.