Thursday, June 30, 2011

Docket Numbers

Docket numbers in Tennessee's appellate courts are an absurdity. Something must be done about them. Their excessive length must be a burden on clerks, and they render citation to unpublished cases perversely cumbersome.

Take this docket number: M2008-02369-COA-R3-CV. Let's look at its elements:

  1. A letter, "M," standing for the Middle Division. An interesting fact as a historical matter, but 1) entirely irrelevant, because the entire Court of Appeals has statewide jurisdiction, the divisions being strictly administrative and 2) already discernible from the notation in the style that the case is on appeal from the 20th judicial district. The M can be omitted.
  2. All four digits of the year of filing. I know we had difficult with the whole Y2K thing, or at least thought we would. But we know it's the twenty-first century, and by the time we get to another one, the courts will have had to change computers again. Drop two digits.
  3. The number of the filing. This is the only element that actually needs to stay the same.
  4. Three letters telling us that this is in the Court of Appeals. This can be reduced. Tennessee has three appellate courts: Appeals, Criminal Appeals, and Supreme. We can get by with one letter: A (Appeals), C (Criminal), or S (Supreme).
  5. R3 --- I'm not actually sure what this means. It can't be that important.
  6. Two letters duplicating information we already have: "CV." The Supreme Court needs to be able to sort cases into "civil" and "criminal" categories. The other appellate courts do not, because they by definition only hear one type. Drop these letters from everything except the Supreme Court's docket numbers.
Thus, we can actually have a docket number like this: 08-02369-A. Better still if we move some elements and get A08-02369. That almost approaches federal elegance. Much better.

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