“Mail” now means “email” under the Administrative Procedure Act, Iowa Supreme Court rules

by Rox Laird | May 28, 2019

When the Iowa Legislature enacted the Administrative Procedure Act in 1975, the statute required petitioners to notify the other parties by mail. That meant sending a paper copy of the petition through the mail within 10 days, or delivery in person under a 1981 amendment.

Today lawyers, like most all other professionals, send letters and documents via email. And the Iowa Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision handed down May 24, said that satisfies the requirements of the law (Ortiz v. Roling Construction and Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance).

One day after Isaac Oritz filed a petition in Polk County District Court appealing a decision by the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, his attorney emailed a time-stamped copy of the petition to counsel for Roling Construction, Ortiz’s employer.

Ortiz’s lawyer subsequently sent a copy of the petition by regular mail at the request of Roling’s lawyer, but by that time the statute’s 10-day deadline had expired. The trial court dismissed the petition, saying the statute required delivery of the petition by postal or personal service, and that decision was upheld by the Iowa Court of Appeals.

In its ruling overturning both decisions, the Supreme Court held that the service requirement under Iowa Code Section 17A.19(2) “is properly construed to include email ‘made upon the parties’ attorney of record’ when done pursuant to Iowa Court Rules governing electronic service.”

Writing for the court, Chief Justice Mark Cady said email has largely displaced mail by the postal service in most instances, including the legal system.

“Our Legislature used the word ‘mail’ in 1975 and 1981 to describe current routine systematic methods of sending written communications,” Cady wrote. “At the time, the current method was postal service. But this, however, should not preclude the word to apply to a means of communication that would later displace postal mail as the standard and most reliable means of routine, reliable communication.”


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