ELECTRONIC CASE FILING’S IMPACT ON DISPOSSESSORY LAWSUITS – FULTON COUNTY
Updated: Mar 26, 2020
Many metro-Atlanta counties now offer electronic case filing, which means that dispossessories can now be filed online. This should be a massive improvement in efficiency and should further expedite what is designed to be a relatively quick process. In practice, however, electronic filing has launched with mixed results.
In Fulton County Magistrate Court for instance, e-filing has led to severe case backlogs. Fulton is a mandatory e-filing county, which means it no longer even accepts hard-copy (paper) filings. Filing the dispossessory is not too difficult, but it’s not simple either. Although Fulton Magistrate has their dispossessory form available online as a .pdf, the form is not a fillable form, which means that you must use Adobe to add typed text the document. You must also then print the form to sign and have notarized, being sure to scan the document afterward for uploading.
All Fulton courts use the Odyssey e-FileGA system (http://www.odysseyefilega.com). Odyssey requires you to register as a user and create a password. You then must select your court and select that you are starting a new case. The site will then ask for the names and address of the parties (the landlord and tenant). You then select what type of document you are filing (Dispossessory Affidavit) and upload the completed form. One very important step not to overlook is the “Optional Service” button. You must click on this if you want to add payment for service by the Fulton Marshal. Odyssey will allow you to complete the filing without selecting this feature, so be careful. In addition to the regular court filing and service fee, Odyssey charges additional convenience and service fees to file electronically (you don’t have to pay this fee if you file in person at the courthouse). Once you enter payment information you then can review your filing information before submitting. After you submit, you will see a brief box in the top right corner of the screen showing your “envelope number.” The envelope number is how the clerk’s office keeps track of each attempted filing (note: it’s not the same as your case number). You should also immediately receive a confirmation email that the filing has been submitted. This email also contains the envelope number.
The filing then goes into a “queue” for future review and approval by the clerk’s office. The Odyssey email states that the process can take 24-48 hours. But in Fulton, the process can take much longer than that. At the time of this writing, the Fulton Magistrate clerk’s office has informed me they are running 3-4 weeks behind in processing new case filings! That’s a staggering wait, especially for a process that’s supposed to be expedited. This wait is due to the clerk’s office receiving over 1,000 new dispossessory filings per day. That’s also staggering. As a practical matter, many of these new cases end up getting dismissed before trial, either because the tenant pays or voluntarily moves out. Fulton State Court does not suffer from this same backlog, but the filing fee is much higher.
In practice, this lengthy filing delay in Fulton Magistrate is forcing landlords to file more evictions than usual. Time is precious for landlords. It’s better to have filed the dispossessory and to subsequently dismiss if payment is made then to try and work things out with the tenant before filing. To negotiate first will further delay an already delayed process. Thus, the magistrate clerk’s office is seeing numerous eviction filings where the tenant is only one or two days late in paying rent. This backlog is creating massive problems for landlords who have tried to work things out first. Fortunately, Fulton Magistrate seems to be the outlier. The e-filing process works better (and often differently) in other counties, which I will cover in later posts. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about how new e-filing procedures are affecting dispossessories in your county.