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Trial rules require sufficient postage

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has a simple message for litigants: if you are filing anything by certified mail, make sure to put enough postage on your paperwork. Otherwise, don’t expect to use that insufficient postage as an excuse to get around trial rules and court deadlines.

In Melanie Webster v. Walgreen Co., No. 55A01-1110-CT-442, the court affirmed a judgment by Morgan Superior Judge Jane Spencer Craney that denied a woman’s motion to amend the filing date of her complaint in order to comply with the filing deadline.

Melanie Webster filed a complaint against Walgreens after she slipped and fell Dec. 17, 2008, outside the Mooresville store, alleging the business was negligent in failing to remove ice and snow from a sidewalk. Four days before the two-year statute of limitations expired and barred the suit, Webster’s attorney, C. Stuart Carter, weighed the envelope with the complaint, summons, appearance and filing fee to send by certified mail. But the postal service reweighed the envelope and determined an additional 17 cents was owed. The Morgan County Clerk’s Office declined to pay the extra postage and the envelope was returned a few days after the statute of limitations had run.

After Carter reweighed and sent the envelope back, the local clerk’s office stamped it filed Dec. 22, 2010. Walgreens objected to a request to amend the filing date to when the envelope had initially been sent within the two-year window, and after a hearing the trial court denied Webster’s motion and found the filing untimely.

On appeal, the three-judge panel held that “mailing” for purposes of the Indiana Trial Rules requires the sender to affix sufficient postage, and since that didn’t happen here the original complaint was untimely.

The appellate judges cited Comer v. Gohil, 664 N.E.2d 389 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996), a medical malpractice case in which the panel determined that “affixing a sufficient amount of postage to the envelope was a matter wholly in [the plaintiff’s] hands” and that mailing the complaint with insufficient postage did not result in the complaint being filed. The Indiana Supreme Court issued a similar holding about filing fees three years earlier.

The court noted that Webster presents no authority suggesting that sending a complaint with insufficient postage constitutes “mailing” for purposes of Trial Rule 5, and she did not show public policy favors allowing her case to proceed.


 

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