TO: Joint Procedure Committee
FROM: Mike Hagburg
DATE: April 27, 2016
RE: Rule 3.5, N.D.R.Ct., Electronic Filing in District Courts
At the last meeting, the committee discussed the court administrator's proposed amendments to Rule 3.5, which were intended to eliminate any requirement to affix a seal or stamp to documents maintained within and output from the Odyssey system. The committee voted to postpone discussion of the proposed amendments pending additional research on statutory requirements for court documents to have a seal affixed.
Staff found numerous statutes and rules that have requirements that the court affix seals to documents. A more detailed discussion of these provisions appears below. Generally, when a statute or rule requires a seal, it is to certify the authenticity of a document generated by the court such as an execution, writ, subpoena or transcript.
The court administrator's office recognizes that there is a web of requirements relating the court seals in North Dakota law. They have indicated that a main priority now is to have a rule that allows documents to be transmitted electronically between different courts without a need for the documents to be certified before transfer. Currently, in order to certify a document it must be printed out, stamped and then re-scanned. Staff has modified the proposed amendments to Rule 3.5 to reflect this request. The proposed amendments are attached.
According to IT, the Odyssey system has the capability to allow court clerks to attach an image to a filed document, so a method for clerks to electronically stamp/seal a document before outputting it from the system can be developed in the future.
Attached is a list of 18 statutes (with text excerpts) that discuss court seals or requirements that courts affix a seal to documents. The most important of these statutes is probably N.D.C.C. 31-04-10 on the form and contents of a certificate for certifying copies to be used as evidence. This statute provides: "Whenever a copy of a writing is certified for the purpose of evidence, the certificate must state in substance that the copy is a correct copy of the original, or of a specified part thereof, as the case may be. The certificate must be under the official seal of the certifying officer, if there is any, or if such officer is a clerk of a court having a seal, under the seal of such court."
This statute is at issue in Jangula v. N.D. Dept. Of Transportation, which is pending before the Supreme Court. This case involves electronic documents state lab analytical reports that did not have a seal affixed. The appellant argues that a seal was required under N.D.C.C. 31-04-10 before the reports could be used as evidence. The state argues that N.D.C.C. 39-20-07 requires electronic copies of analytical reports to be accepted as prima facie evidence in court.
Under N.D.R.Ev. 902, documents with a seal affixed are at the top of the hierarchy of self-authenticating documents. N.D.R.Ev. 902(10), however, says documents declared authentic by statute are also self-authenticating. Other rules also deal with seals: N.D.R.Civ.P. 44 on proof of an official record requires certification of a record to be made with a seal affixed; N.D.R.Ct. 7.1 on judgments orders and decrees requires a certificate of satisfaction of judgment to be made under the seal of the court.
The committee discussed requirements for seals in probate matters at the last meeting. The only Uniform Probate Code statute to require an official seal is N.D.C.C. 30.1-08-04 on self-proved wills. Most of the informal probate forms on the Court's self-help site, however, require some of seal, generally by a notary. The letters testamentary form requires a seal to be affixed by the clerk of court.