August 25, 2017

A Day Late and Two Dollars Short

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A recent Indiana Court of Appeals case confirmed long standing law in the State of Indiana that a person filing a lawsuit must timely pay the entire filing fee to commence a civil action. Failure to pay the correct fee will prevent the complaint from being filed, thus creating the potential for the statute of limitations to expire.

A few facts are helpful. An attorney representing a personal injury client attempted to file a personal injury lawsuit against the person alleged to be at fault for an accident, but the check that the attorney sent to the clerk along with the complaint was two dollars less than the required filing fee. The attorney tendered $137 filing fee with the complaint, while the required filing fee was $139. By the time the attorney realized the mistake and attempted to rectify it, the statute of limitations had expired.

The local trial court granted relief to the attorney, entering an order treating the complaint as if it had been filed timely. The attorney for the person alleged to be at fault for the accident took an appeal to the Indiana Court of Appeals. The Indiana Court of Appeals, citing Indiana Supreme Court precedent, concluded that the payment of the correct filing fee is required to commence an action.  hus, even though the tender of the $137 was only $2 shy of the required $139 filing fee, the complaint could not be deemed filed until the correct filing fee was tendered. 

As a result, being $2 short on the filing fee delayed the filing of the complaint (until the additional $2 was tendered to the clerk), the statute of limitations expired before the attorney could get the additional $2 to the clerk, and the Court of Appeals dismissed the complaint.