Electronic Case Filing Is Coming to North Carolina's Court System
In recent weeks, the Supreme Court of North Carolina has published notices regarding the upcoming rollout of a statewide electronic filing system called Odyssey Integrated Case Management System, or Odyssey ICMS.
For some attorneys and paralegals, it will be a welcome change to not have to run down to the courthouse to meet a filing deadline. For others, the thought of battling technology sets them on edge. Whether you're looking forward to this big change or dreading it, we hope that the following information helps to prepare you for what's ahead. Here, we'll explain when to expect the implementation of Odyssey ICMS in your county, how the new e-filing rules will affect your day-to-day practice, and how you can stay-up-to-date and learn more about using this e-filing system.
When will Odyssey go live?
Although Odyssey will be a state-wide program, it will not be implemented across all counties at the same time. The current plan is a staggered rollout: starting later this summer, Odyssey will go live in Wake, Lee, Johnston, and Harnett Counties. Mecklenburg will follow before the end of the year. Beginning in 2022, a new group of counties will switch over to Odyssey every 3 to 4 months. Odyssey should be statewide by June 2024. If all goes well in the early groups, the later groups may see earlier rollout dates.
Take note that this timeline is subject to change. You can keep tabs on the rollout by visiting the NC Courts website. There, the Judicial Branch will maintain a list of counties in which Odyssey has gone live.
Although the rollout of Odyssey is staggered across the state, counties in the same judicial district will implement Odyssey at the same time. And when a judicial district goes live, then all courts and all case types in that district will make the switch to Odyssey at the same time—for example, it won't be necessary to use filing paper in District Court but e-filing in Superior Court. There is, however, one wrinkle that attorneys who practice before the Business Court should keep in mind: until Odyssey is implemented for both the Business Court and in the county of venue, duplicate filings in Business Court cases will still be required in accordance with Rule 3.11 of the North Carolina Business Court Rules.
Of course, the shift from paper filing to e-filing ushers in the need for additional procedural changes. And where there are changes, there are questions. In anticipation of the Odyssey rollout, the NC Supreme Court has amended the General Rules of Practice.
According to the amended Rules, attorneys will be required to file electronically. Paper filing, solely on the basis of attorney preference, will not be an option. Pro se litigants, however, may choose whether to e-file or to paper file. Attorneys, and pro se litigants who wish to e-file, must register for a user account in order to file documents electronically. Regardless of e-filing or paper filing, service must still be made in accordance with the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, and the filing deadline is 5 p.m.
The amended Rules also account for the possibility of problems that might prevent an attorney from e-filing by allowing attorneys to file a motion for relief from the e-filing requirement. But take heed: attorneys will only be granted relief if they can show the existence of an exceptional circumstance, including that they have exercised due diligence to file the document electronically before asking for relief. Exceptional circumstances include unexpected system outages, natural disasters, and other similar emergencies.
Lastly, some other useful tidbits about e-filing:
To remove the added step of printing and scanning in documents, e-filers may sign documents by typing "/s/" and the filer's name.
Because e-filing more readily grants the public access to court records, nonpublic or unneeded sensitive information—things like Social Security numbers—must be omitted or redacted before filing.
To make the task of scanning in paper filings easier on the clerks, documents filed in hardcopy should be unfolded, firmly bound, with no manuscript cover, and they must be letter size. Exceptions will be made for wills and exhibits. Note: these size requirements also apply in counties that have not yet implemented Odyssey.
In any county that was part of the predecessor e-filing pilot program, that program and its related rules will phase out when that county implements Odyssey.
How to learn more
The North Carolina Judicial Branch has published a one-hour, on-demand CLE for attorneys and paralegals. From Paper to Digital: The eCourts Update provides an overview of how Odyssey came about and, importantly, a demonstration of how Odyssey works. Additional training materials and resources on how to use Odyssey will be available beginning in July. NCcourts.gov will be the best place to check back for information and updates—it's the hub for all things Odyssey.
Supreme Court Press Release
General Rules of Practice Amendments
Order Amending the Supplemental Rules for the Pilot Project