Facts and Tips
System requirements are minimal and inexpensive. All that is needed are:
• a personal computer (PC clone / Apple Macintosh),
• an Internet connection
• a modern browser
• Adobe Acrobat Reader and PDF writing software
• a scanner (optional) for imaging documents which do not exist in electronic format
Attorneys must be admitted to practice in the Northern District of Ohio in order to file electronically.
Attorneys must also register in advance before filing electronically in order to obtain a CM/ECF Identification Name and Password which will provide attorney level access to the system and serve as the attorney's signature for all electronically filed documents for purposes of Fed. R. Civ. P. 11.
All users must have a PACER User Account in order to retrieve documents electronically over the Internet (see details below).
CM/ECF users are now required to have a PACER account, in addition to a CM/ECF identification name and password, to access the system. While most law firms already have a PACER account for use by their docketing staff, attorneys will need to become aware of their firm's PACER id and password, or obtain a PACER id and password of their own, to access documents from the CM/ECF system.
PACER accounts can be established through the PACER Service Center: http://pacer.psc.uscourts.gov/
PACER Service Center
P.O. Box 780549
San Antonio, TX 78278
As directed by Congress, the Judicial Conference has determined that the following fees are necessary to reimburse expenses incurred by the judiciary in providing electronic public access to court records. Access to court documents costs $0.08 per page. The cost to access a single document is capped at $2.40, the equivalent of 30 pages. The cap does not apply to name searches, reports that are not case-specific and transcripts of federal court proceedings. By Judicial Conference policy, if your usage does not exceed $10 in a quarter, fees for that quarter are waived, effectively making the service free for most users. No fees are charged for filing documents and attorneys of record will receive the first copy of documents in their cases for free, as long as they retrieve the document within 15 days of filing. Attorneys of record can avoid the fees altogether by either printing the documents or saving them to their own disk when the get their first free look. There is an electronic print fee of $0.10 per page, for printing copies of any record or document accessed electronically at a public terminal in the courthouse. Fees are subject to change. All questions regarding fees and the PACER billing mechanism should be directed to the PACER Service Center (see contact information above).
The CM/ECF system provides:
• 24 hour access to file or view documents
• immediate creation of docket entries
• immediate access to updated docket sheets and to the documents themselves
• upon the filing of any new document, e-mail notices are automatically sent to the other parties in the case
• potential elimination of paper files that can be misplaced or lost
• potential savings in copying, courier and noticing costs
There are a variety of training options for those interested in learning more about CM/ECF. Tips sheets and training materials are available online on the Court's web site. In conjunction with local bar associations, the Court frequently presents CLE training programs related to electronic filing. In addition, the Clerk's Office regularly offers demonstrations and hands on training at its court houses. The Clerk's Office is also willing, on a limited basis, to send trainers to provide demonstrations or hands on training at law firms. Call the Clerk's Office for more details or to make arrangements for training:
• Akron: 330-252-6015
• Cleveland: 216-357-7007
• Toledo: 419-213-5500
• Youngstown: 330-884-7419
While the electronic filing system has proven to be highly reliable and relatively easy to use, the Clerk's Office has established a Help Desk (1-800-355-8498) to assist if problems occur. The Help Desk is staffed weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. (eastern standard time), and is available at all other times to record voice mail messages.
Electronic filing extends the time in which attorneys can file beyond the clerk's office's typical intake hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The system is available for filing and retrieving documents 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, with minor exceptions for normal system maintenance. Be aware, however, that help desk assistance is only available form the Clerk's Office during normal business hours: from 8:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. and those seeking to make after hours filings do so at their own risk.
Attorneys create documents on their own computers just as they do now. However, instead of printing the documents on paper and delivering them to the Court, the attorneys save the documents in a portable document format (Adobe Acrobat PDF) that allows other system users to view the documents in their original format, regardless of the type of computer or word processing system that was used to create the documents or is being used to view them.
Attorneys access the Court's electronic filing system over the Internet. After establishing their identity by entering a Court assigned user identification name and password, attorneys enter the case number in which their document is to be filed, the name of the party for whom the document is being filed and the type of document being submitted (answer, answer with cross-claim, etc.). The document is then transmitted to the Court's computer. Once the document is received by the Court, the electronic filing system:
• Sends a receipt to the sender verifying that the document has been received.
• Updates the docket sheet.
• Makes the updated docket sheet and the document itself immediately available to anyone with access to the system.
• Sends a notice of the filing to all parties who have agreed to receive electronic notice.
The Court seeks to have as many documents as reasonably possible filed electronically. The Court recognizes, however, that some documents may not be available in electronic format-for example, certain medical records. Nevertheless, many of those documents can be easily and inexpensively scanned for electronic filing. Documents or objects that cannot be scanned reasonably will be filed and served in the traditional manner. Advance planning will help avoid the need to make last minute decisions on such matters.
Attorneys are strongly encouraged to keep their CM/ECF e-mail notification address up to date. Failure to do so will result in notice of filings from other parties, as well as from the court, to be misdirected. Attorneys can review, and modify, their e-mail notification setup specifications themselves using the "Set Up E-mail Notification" feature of CM/ECF. Attorneys should also inform the Clerk's Office in writing of any change of name, address, phone number, fax number or e-mail address so that all its records may be updated appropriately.
When an attorney leaves a firm, both the attorney and the firm need to consider the implications to the CM/ECF noticing system. If cases will move with the attorney, all the attorney needs to do is to change his/her e-mail notification set up and submit a change of address to the Clerk's Office. If cases will remain with the firm, the firm will need to ensure that the Court docket accurately reflects the proper attorney of record and that the new attorney of record is properly set up to receive e-mail notification. Law firms may also wish to consider the best method of handling e-mail addressed to the firm for the departed attorney. Summarily removing the attorney from the firm's e-mail system with no further action, may result in notifications being missed. Firms may wish to consider whether their own e-mail systems should forward such e-mails to the attorney at his/her new address, or to another attorney within the firm. Naturally, these are issues that should be worked out between the departing attorney and the firm and will vary from case to case.
Attorneys frequently list multiple e-mail addresses (primary and secondary) when setting up their e-mail notification preferences so that staff members or clients can also be notified of filings electronically. Tip sheets for configuring primary and secondary e-mail addresses are available on the Court's web site.
Firms should be aware that e-mail notices can be redirected or rejected at several steps between the mailing of the notice by the CM/ECF system and the ultimate receipt by the user. The Court has learned of instances where a law firm's Internet Service Provider (ISP) or a law firm's own network, has rejected notices sent by the court as "spam." This has typically happened in instances where attorneys have listed multiple e-mail addresses in their e-mail notification set-up. When multiple addresses are entered, the CM/ECF system sends out a single message, with cc's. Some ISP's and firm networks deliver the message to the first e-mail address, but not to the others. Occasionally, all messages seem to have been rejected. If you suspect that this is happening to your firm, contact your network administrator and/or your ISP, in addition to the Court's help desk, to see what options are available to you. A future enhancement coming to the CM/ECF system will change the method of mailing messages to multiple addresses by using cc's, to sending each message individually. That may resolve many issues related to this problem.
If you consistently receive e-mail notices that are unreadable, your e-mail notification setup may be configured improperly for the e-mail system that you use. Some e-mail systems can parse HTML (hypertext markup language) text, which makes for a well formatted e-mail message, and some e-mail systems cannot. CM/ECF can send e-mail to both types of systems, but it needs to be told which type of message to send. You can reconfigure the manner in which notices will be sent to you by logging onto the system, clicking on Utilities, selecting Maintain Your Account, and updating your Email information to select "html" or "text" for the e-mail address you are configuring.
All documents should be reviewed in their final PDF form prior to being filed with the Court. The review should ensure:
• that the proper document is being filed (occasionally users select prior versions, or in some instances, the wrong document entirely),
• that it has the proper format (caption, signature blocks, margins, etc.), and
• that it has been converted properly to PDF format (check for completeness and legibility). Pay close attention to scanned documents-like any other copying process, it
is easy for pages to get out of order, to become illegible, to be missed entirely, or to become mis-oriented (off center, upside down, etc.).
Occasionally filers forget to add their s/ name to the signature block of the document. Please see paragraph 17 of the Electronic Filing Policies and Procedures Manual for a detailed explanation. In addition, occasionally the s/ name in the signature block does not match the user id and password used to submit the document. Ideally the two should match since it is the password and id that serve as the signature on the document for rule 11 purposes, while the s/ name merely serves as an indicator of who submitted the document to those who are viewing the document on screen or on paper and who are without access to the id/password that the document was submitted under.
When filing a motion for leave to file, the underlying document which you are requesting leave to file should not be filed as a separate document, unless and until the motion is granted. If it is necessary to file the underlying document at the time the motion for leave to file is submitted (for instance, if it is necessary for the court to review that document to determine whether filing should be permitted), the underlying document should be filed as an attachment to the motion for leave.
Multipart motions are discouraged. It is preferred that such motions be filed separately. However, if it is necessary to file a multipart motion, attorneys should take care that all parts (each event) of the motion are selected in the motion filing process so that the court has the opportunity to grant or deny each part separately. In order to select two or more different motion events hold down the control key while you select each part of the motion.
Scanning is admittedly the most cumbersome and error prone part of the CM/ECF filing process. Scanning results in larger file sizes than documents converted directly to PDF and larger files are more time consuming to upload to and download from the CM/ECF system. In instances where the document is already available in electronic format, scanning should be avoided unless absolutely necessary (for instance, to show signatures on an affidavit, etc.). However, when it is necessary to scan a document:
• Select the lowest dots per inch (dpi) setting that results in a clear and legible document. Most documents are highly legible at 150 dpi; the dpi of many documents can
be reduced even further. Scanning documents at 300 dpi typically doubles the file size while displaying minimal, if any, improvement in readability.
• Select scanning in black & white for straight text documents and gray scale for documents with tones. Avoid selecting color when scanning unless absolutely necessary.
Selecting color for a standard black and white typed document increases the file size tremendously.
• Do not use OCR (optical character recognition) when scanning documents to be filed electronically. OCR is used to scan documents for future editing. Documents to be
filed should already be in final form and should not require OCR. Be aware that even the best OCR programs only claim to be 95% accurate. Since a typical page contains
300+ words, OCR is likely to introduce 15 or more errors per page. Instead, scan your documents as if you were creating a mere photocopy by not using OCR.
• Provide staff with as much training as possible in the use of the scanner and scanning software. Use of scanners and scanning software is relatively new. Most law firm
staff are likely to be unfamiliar with the process. Among the comments the Court help desk hears with some frequency from law firm staff is the need for assistance
or training in how to scan documents.
NOTE: Instructions for Adobe 6.0 users:
The following notice applies ONLY to filers that use Adobe Acrobat PDF Writer Version 6.0 to convert SCANNED documents to PDF for filing:
Filers who convert SCANNED documents to PDF using Adobe PDF Writer V6.0 frequently create documents that cannot be read by individuals using earlier versions of Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader software, including most attorneys and the court. If the court and opposing counsel can't read the document, it is akin to not being filed or served. Before filing a SCANNED document with the Court, Adobe V6.0 users should follow these instructions:
Open the SCANNED document in Adobe PDF Writer V6.0. On the menu bar, click "Advanced" then click "PDF Optimizer". By the "Compatible with" option select "4.0", click "O.K.", click "Save". When asked if you want to replace the existing document, click "yes." The document is now ready to be filed.
Documents that have not been scanned (e.g. generated with Word, Word Perfect, etc.) seem to pose no problems, and Adobe PDF Writer V6.0 users can convert these documents to PDF and file them as usual.
Again, this problem only affects users who convert SCANNED documents to PDF using PDF Writer V6.0. Filers who use other software to convert scanned documents to PDF, including earlier versions of Adobe PDF Writer, should not have these problems.
Occasionally, documents are submitted in a single file when they should more properly be broken up into their component parts (motion, brief, separate attachments, etc.) prior to filing for ease of use by others. Even though the documents are in separate files, they can be submitted as a single transmission by the filer. See paragraph 14 of the Electronic Filing Policies and Procedures Manual for further details.
Occasionally, documents are submitted without case captions. Documents submitted electronically should have the same formatting as if the document had been submitted on paper. It should contain the court name, case name, case number, Judge, and title of the document, etc. See Local Rule 10.1 for details.
The filer should electronically file the praecipe and attach the document(s) they want the Clerk of Court to issue. Then the clerk's office will extract and issue the documents and mail them to the filer. The clerk's office will also modify the praecipe docket text to reflect that document(s) was issued and indicate the date of issuance. (Example: Alias summonses issued on 10/13/00).
If you make an emergency filing, such as a motion for a temporary restraining order that requires immediate attention, you should also call chambers by phone to notify them that the matter requires immediate attention. Failure to do so could result in your filing not receiving immediate attention.
E-mail notices of electronic filings are automatically created by the computer and sent from a special computer e-mail account, not from an individual at the Court. Therefore, responding or sending e-mail to the address from which the notice was sent is futile. We have discovered, long after the fact, instances where attorneys have responded to the computer account with comments on the judges rulings, with questions of importance and with files that they had forgotten to attach to their original filings. Also note that replying directly to the notice of electronic filing does not send a message to the other recipients of the notice. If you need to contact the Court by e-mail, please ensure that your message is addressed to a specific individual, not to the computer generated account. The best method of ensuring timely response to queries is to contact the Court by phone.
In networked situations we have had several occurrences where an attorney's machine locks up at the login screen. If the symptom is that you get the login screen, fill it out and the system hangs after hitting the submit button, then your network might be blocking Secure Socket Layer (SSL) port 443 (that's the point where CM/ECF transitions from web port 80 to SSL port 443). Contact the system people at your firm and ask them to check if any of your routers or firewalls are blocking this port. Please note that at firms with multiple routers or firewalls, some attorneys may experience this problem while others within the same firm, connected to a different router or firewall that does not block that port, may be able to connect without a problem. Thus your network staff should check all routers and firewalls that you may be connected to within your firm.
If your system hangs, or you are prevented from logging in, you may need to: clear out files the system places in your /windows/temp directory, the cookies.txt and cache in the users Netscape profile, reboot, and the system should return to normal. The CM/ECF application is creating files called nsform??.tmp in a computers /windows/tmp directory. On NT it would be in the users profiles directory. On Win2K its in /documents and settings/username/local settings/temp. (They are java coded forms.) The ?? is a number and/or character value. The files are created and unique ?? identifiers are given. Once the system runs out of letter number combinations (36 x 36 possible), it cannot create more nsform?? files and the system hangs. CM/ECF creates these files, but does not delete them. Removing only the nsform??.txt files from /windows/temp will fix the problem without bothering the Netscape cookies.txt or cache.
IMPORTANT NOTICE TO AOL USERS:
When you upgrade to AOL version 9.0, the AOL installation routine may reset your Anti-Spam preferences, which may prevent you from receiving notices of electronic filing and other ECF-related e-mails from the Court. CM/ECF users who use (or plan to upgrade) to AOL 9.0 should verify that email@example.com is listed in your AOL address book, so that ECF-related e-mails are not blocked from reaching your AOL account. Also note, however, that you should never send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org since the Court does not accept e-mail sent to that account.