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Lee v. Field

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

October 12, 2016

ADAM LEE, Appellant,
DANE S. FIELD, Appellee.


          Susan Oki Mollway United States District Judge.

         Before this court is a motion brought by Appellant Adam Lee seeking relief from the judgment entered on September 23, 2016. This court denies the motion, setting forth its reasoning below.


         On June 7, 2016, Lee, who is proceeding pro se, filed appeals with this court from two Bankruptcy Court orders. See ECF No. 1. On July 18, 2016, the Certificate of Readiness was filed. See ECF No. 6.

         This court notes that Lee's bankruptcy proceedings have generated a string of appeals, the present appeal being the last in that string. See Civil Nos. 15-00100; 15-00278; 15-00472; 15-00490; 15-00491; 16-00295.

         On July 28, 2016, this court issued a minute order scheduling the hearing in this bankruptcy appeal for October 24, 2016, at 9:00 a.m. See ECF No.7. The minute order also stated, “Appellant's Opening Brief shall be filed and served no later than August 31, 2016. Failure to file a timely Opening Brief will result in the automatic dismissal of the appeal. Appellee's Responsive Brief shall be filed and served no later than September 28, 2016.” See id. This minute order was served on Lee by regular United States mail.

         On September 23, 2016, the court issued another minute order noting that Lee had not filed an Opening Brief. See ECF No. 8. The minute order stated, “Rather than automatically dismissing the appeal, the court attempted to contact the Appellant to determine whether he intended to pursue the appeal. Having left four telephone messages requesting that the Appellant contact the court and having received no response from Appellant, the court dismisses the appeal and directs the Clerk of Court to enter judgment against Appellant Adam Lee and to close this case.” See id. Judgment was then entered pursuant to the minute order. See ECF No. 9.

         Lee now seeks relief from the judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) and Rule 60(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Lee contends that he “provided his email address as the primary form of contact for the case and was told by the court when filing that emails will be sent with all things related to the case.” He further states that he has been contacted via email in “all previous interactions” with the bankruptcy court and this court, and he reasons that it was reasonable for him to have expected to have been contacted by email for the present appeal.

         The court's records do not include any indication that Lee was to receive all notification by email. Lee was required to provide his email address by Local Rule 10.2(b), which states that any document submitted for filing must include the filer's name, Hawaii bar identification number (when applicable), address, telephone number, facsimile number, and “e-mail address of counsel (or, if pro se, of the party).” The email address is used by the court for sending materials via the court's Electronic Case Filing system to registered users in the ECF system and sometimes for scheduling hearings. Lee is not and has not ever been a registered user of this court's Electronic Case Filing system.

         Nothing in this court's rules provides that the listing of an email address automatically entitles a person to receive communications by email. In fact, this court has not identified any member of this court's staff who is aware of any representation to Lee that he would receive emailed notifications from the court. If Lee was told by court staff at the time he filed his appeal that notifications would be emailed to him, court staff may have thought Lee was an attorney. However, this court questions whether court staff told Lee anything at all about emails when he filed his appeal, because this appeal was initiated in this court by a notice sent to this court by the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel. The BAP transferred this matter to the district court upon receiving Lee's election to proceed in the district court. Far from filing his appeal with this court (when he says he was assured he would receive emails from the court), Lee filed his appeal with the Bankruptcy Court, and it was the BAP that sent his notice of appeal to the district court. There was therefore no need for Lee to communicate with this court's staff at the time he filed his appeal.

         In the present appeal, Lee, as is typical for pro se parties and other persons who are not registered ECF users, has been receiving materials from the court through the United States Postal Service. This has been clearly reflected in the court's Notifications of Electronic Filing. See, e.g., ECF Nos. 1 to 3, 5 to 9. Thus, Lee has been sent the court's minute orders via first-class mail. Notably, he never denies that this court has sent him notifications by first-class mail to the address on file. If he thought he would receive electronic communications from this court, it may have been because the attorneys who represented him in earlier appeals were registered to receive electronic notifications, and those attorneys may have forwarded materials to him electronically. In the present appeal, receipt of hard copies in the mail should have made him aware that email was not the way this court was communicating with him in his pro se appeal. If he has been ignoring the hard copies sent to him by first-class mail, he has done so at his peril.

         This court is particularly concerned that Lee claims that court staff assumed he was receiving notifications from the court by email. This is inconsistent with this court's understanding of his conversations with court personnel and with court practices.

         Lee asserts, “The Appellant and Clerk called each other back several times before reaching each other and having all questions answered. The Clerk thought that the Appellant was receiving emails regarding the case also but then checked and called Appellant back, verifying that the Appellant did not receive any emails regarding the case.” Lee says this establishes that he was the victim of “miscommunication.”

         If Lee is referring to telephone calls that all occurred on September 23, 2016, after judgment had been entered earlier that day, this court's understanding of what was said by court staff on that day differs greatly from Lee's description. In the first place, by September 23, the deadline for Lee's Opening Brief had passed, so anything said on September 23 could not have been relied on by Lee as a reason for missing his August deadline. In the second place, by September 23, court staff had left four telephone messages ...

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