Typed Signature Qualifies as “Signature” for Rule 11 Purposes

In some circumstances, a typed name may qualify as a signature on a pleading.

In Jones v. Mortgage Menders, LLC, No. M2017-01452-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 21, 2018), plaintiff initially filed his complaint in 2006, then took a voluntary nonsuit on February 12, 2016. Plaintiff, acting pro se, filed a “purported complaint” on February 2, 2017, attempting to re-assert the original claims. This pleading “featured his typewritten name rather than his handwritten signature.”

The court clerk alerted plaintiff to the lack of signature , but instead of signing the complaint, plaintiff “signed a certificate of service.” Defendants moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, finding that the lack of signature meant that the complaint did “not satisfy the signature requirement under Rule 11,” and further finding that the purported complaint was so deficient as to not be a complaint at all. The Court of Appeals overturned these holdings.

The Court pointed out that plaintiff here did not simply leave the signature line blank, but instead typed his name, and that the “typed name was situated in such a way and location as being where a handwritten signature would be placed.” The Court found that “Plaintiff’s typewritten name clearly was meant by him to constitute his signature, and qualified as such.” Summary judgment on this ground was thus reversed.

Further, the Court reversed the holding that the pleading was too deficient to be considered a complaint. While it acknowledged that the “document clearly is deficient as a piece of legal writing,” it found that “Defendants were put on notice as to what Plaintiff was trying, inartfully, to do,” as the pleading clearly referenced the previously filed case. Specifically noting that it took no position on the merits of plaintiff’s claim, the Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment.

Here, the Court of Appeals was obviously interpreting the applicable rules more loosely in light of plaintiff acting pro se. Nonetheless, if you are ever in a situation where a pleading is potentially not signed correctly, this case could be helpful.