Court Rule Requires Signing of Papers Filed in Court
Muldoon & Getz
In civil litigation, New York’s Rules of Court require that all papers, served on another party or filed or submitted to the court, be signed by an attorney. 22 NYCRR § 130-1.1-a. This requires more than the attorney’s name and address being typed on the document, CPLR 2101; the actual signature of the attorney is required.
By signing, the attorney certifies that the contentions therein are not frivolous. § 130-1.1-a(b).
Omitting the attorney’s signature may result in the document being struck, if not corrected promptly after being called to the attorney’s attention. Absent prejudice to the other party, though, granting leave to file and serve a properly signed pleadings is appropriate. Pronti v Hogan, 278 AD2d 841, 718 NYS2d 909 (4th Dept 2000).
This issue was addressed in a lower court decision involving massive failure to sign court documents, Matter of Edward Shapiro, PC, 9 Misc3d 369, 801 NYS2d 694 (NYC Civil Court 2005). Two attorneys were found to have filed court documents without signatures. These included complaints, affirmations of mailing, notices of trial, and affidavits of service.
When the issue came to light, the lead attorney testified that he delegated the signing of his name. The attorney acknowledged not having read Part 130. He also admitted that he had not signed 95% of the documents.
The judge assigned to review the issue declined to dismiss the thousands of cases with defective papers; no opposing party had promptly called attention to the violation. The court found the attorneys’ failure to sign the documents to be “frivolous conduct” and imposed sanctions under Part 130.
In a related proceeding in Suffolk County, the same attorneys had been sanctioned $35,000. In the reported decision from Queens County, $40,000 in additional sanctions were imposed against the professional corporation. Significant fines, to be sure, but for rampant noncompliance: the number of cases involved was 27,729.
The saving grace for the attorneys was two-fold: the judge who imposed the sanctions noted that the attorneys were candid in acknowledging their failure to sign the documents. Second, after the issue came to light, the attorneys engaged the services of a lawyer to act as a “law practice mentor” and review the firm’s practices and procedures and to assist them in developing and implementing practices within the firm to ensure compliance with court rules.
State appellate practice
The rules of the New York Court of Appeals address the signing requirement in § 500.1. The Fourth Department’s requirement with civil appeals is in § 1000.16.
State criminal law practice
Part 130's signature requirement applies to civil cases, not criminal. Neither an attorney nor the defendant is required, for example, to certify to the merits of an appeal. People v Borum, 8 NY2d 177, 203 NYS2d 84, 168 NE2d 527 (1960).
Federal court rules require an attorney sign all papers filed in court, civil or criminal. Similar to the state rule, the federal signature requirement constitutes an attorney’s certification. FRCP 11; Fed R Crim Proc 49; Local Rules of Criminal Procedure WDNY, 49.2. With electronic filing in federal court, a conformed signature is used; the original document, while not electronically filed, must be actually signed.
© 2008 by Gary Muldoon