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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

US Court Rejects DocuSign e-Signatures as Method to Provide Digital Authorization

Courts Digital Commerce ESIGN Electronic Signatures Sanctions Payments UST

Courts

Back in July, the United States bankruptcy court for the Eastern District of California held that under its local rules, an attorney submitting electronically signed documents for filing with the court must maintain an originally signed document in paper form bearing a “wet” signatureIn re Mayfield, No. 16-22134-D-7, 2016 WL 3958982 (U.S. Bankr. Ct. E.D. Cal.).  The United States Trustee (UST) filed a motion for sanctions against a debtor’s attorney who used the an electronic signature platform to have the debtor execute certain documents that were subsequently filed with the court.  The court’s local rules 9004-1(C) and (D) provide that if these documents were executed with a “software-generated electronic signature,” the submitting attorney is required to maintain “an originally signed document in paper form” and produce it upon request by the UST.   When asked by the UST to produce the original signed versions of the documents he filed, the debtor’s attorney was unable to do so.  In response to the motion, the debtor’s attorney argued that the requirements of 9004-1(C) and (D) did not apply because the electronic signatures were manually created by the debtor’s actions taken on the electronic signature platform.  As such, they were not “software-generated electronic signatures” within the meaning of the rule, and under the federal ESIGN Act constituted “original” signatures.

Ultimately, the court held that: (i) the ESIGN Act was not applicable because of the express exemption for court rules at 15 USC § 7003(b)(1), thereby permitting the court to establish and interpret its own rules with respect to electronic signatures, (ii) the electronic signatures created using the platform were within the meaning of the term “software-generated electronic signature” under the local rules, and (iii) the local rule’s reference to “an originally signed document in paper form” required the attorney to also maintain a copy of the document bearing a “wet ink” signature.  Accordingly, the Court granted the UST’s motion and, as the sanction imposed, required the debtor’s attorney to certify completion of the court’s online e-filing training course.

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