Effective January 1, 2014, the Texas Supreme Court enacted important amendments to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. These amendments are not limited to the well–publicized mandate for electronic filing. Lesser–known revisions include the addition of email as an authorized method of service as well as a change to the deadline to respond to documents served by fax. Another amendment prohibits court filings from including "sensitive data" as defined in the new rules.
Mandatory Electronic Filing.
Texas attorneys are likely familiar with the new requirement of electronic filing. Pursuant to the new Rule 21(f), attorneys handling civil cases are now required to electronically file court documents "in courts where electronic filing has been mandated." The jurisdictions currently requiring electronic filing include Texas' most populous counties: Bexar, Collin, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Fort Bend, Harris, Hidalgo, Tarrant, and Travis. Electronic filing will be mandatory in all Texas counties by 2016.
Electronic filing is effected through an electronic filing service provider. CLICK HERE to find a list of electronic filing service providers currently authorized by the Office of Court Administration.
Methods of Service Extended to Include Email.
Rule 21a(a) now includes email as an authorized method of service for documents not filed electronically, e.g., discovery requests. The deadline for responding to documents served by email is not extended as is the case with the three–day extension applied to documents served by regular mail pursuant to Rule 21a(c).
In conjunction with this change, Rule 57 was amended to require attorneys and pro se litigants to include their email address in every pleading.
Service by Fax No Longer Extends Deadlines.
The Texas Supreme Court revised Rules 4 and 21a to remove the longstanding rule allowing a party to add three days to any deadline when service of the document was made by fax. When receiving service via fax, the applicable response deadline is simply what the Rules prescribe without any three–day addition. The three–day extension of a deadline authorized in Rule 21a(c) now only applies when service is accomplished by regular mail.
Eliminating Sensitive Data from Court Filings.
The Texas Supreme Court also added Rule 21c, which defines "sensitive data" and prohibits its inclusion in any document filed absent specific requirements by statute, court rule, or administrative regulation. Sensitive data includes driver's license numbers, passport numbers, social security numbers, tax identification numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, or certain information regarding a minor. Sensitive data must be redacted prior to filing, but the filing party must retain a copy of the unredacted version. If a document containing sensitive data is improperly filed, Rule 21c does not permit a clerk to refuse to file the document. But the rule does allow a clerk to give the filing party a deadline to resubmit a redacted, substitute document. The prohibition of sensitive data in Court filings does not apply to wills and documents filed under seal.
CLICK HERE to see the Court's order and all of the amendments that took effect on January 1, 2014.