Whether you rarely practice in the North Carolina appellate courts or have a copy of the Appellate Rules tabbed, highlighted, and scribbled-upon, you have likely heard that there are many highly specific “style” requirements imposed by the Rules and the attached Appendices.  Fonts, margins, spacing, periods–why do these things matter?

That’s too big a question to tackle in one post.  But let’s focus on one such item of minutia: date stamps (a/k/a “filed stamps”).  Rule 9(b)(3) provides, in part:

(3)  Filing Dates and Signatures on Papers.  Every pleading, motion, affidavit, or other paper included in the record on appeal shall show the date on which it was filed . . . .  Every judgment, order, or other determination shall show the date on which it was entered . . . .

We discussed earlier here a recent North Carolina Court of Appeals opinion in the family law case of Balawejder v. Balawejder.  After trial below, the Appellant had filed a Notice of Appeal on 13 July 2010 from a 10 June 2010 order and a “July 2010” order.  Indeed, there had been a “letter ruling” of sorts dated 6 July 2010, but it was not included in the Record after Appellee moved for judicial settlement of the record under Rule 11(c).  This strange procedural history led one of our readers, appellate practitioner Michelle Connell, to this conundrum:

With the “July 2010” order out of the picture, how was the 13 July 2010 Notice of Appeal a timely appeal from a 10 June 2010 order?  Wasn’t the Notice of Appeal due by Monday 12 July 2010, the first business day after the 30-day appeals clock had run under Rule 3(c)?

The answer is unsettling.  The 30-day clock under Rule 3(c)(1) does not typically begin to run until “entry of judgment.”  North Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 58, in turn, provides that “a judgment is entered when it is reduced to writing, signed by the judge, and filed with the clerk of court.”  N.C. R. Civ. P. 58 (emphasis added).  In Balawejder, the 10 June 2010 order was indeed signed on 10 June 2010.  For Appellant’s appeal to be timely–that is, for the Court of Appeals to even have jurisdiction over the appeal–the 10 June 2010 order must have been filed several days later.  The problem is that the date stamp on the order is too faint to read.

The index to the record on appeal represents that the order was filed on 14 June 2010.  There is no guarantee that the Court of Appeals would read the index to the record that closely, however.  This is precisely why it is so critical to have legible date stamps on all filed documents in the record–especially those that might otherwise strip the Court of jurisdiction over the appeal. 

The North Carolina Appellate Style Manual, published by the Appellate Rules Committee, provides guidance for just this type of situation:

Note on date stamps:  Rule 9(b)(3) requires all papers to show the date on which they were filed. Often the Clerk’s time stamp becomes illegible when copied. The easiest solution is to make a clear, handwritten or typed date entry on the copy you are including in the Record. For example, just above or just below the Clerk’s stamp, you might type: “Filed 24 Jan. 2010.”

 In Balawejder, the parties did not appear to dispute jurisdiction or question the representation that the underlying order was filed on 14 June 2010, and the Court of Appeals did not raise the issue.  No harm this time.  Just remember, though: even little rules can cause big problems.