As the United States continues to battle the COVID-19 crisis, State and Federal Courts have implemented various orders designed to promote public safety while balancing the rights of criminal defendants and litigants. These orders include, in some jurisdictions, the continuation of jury trials, the suspension of statutes of limitations, and in some instances suspension of court deadlines. As the crisis has evolved, several states and/or courts continue to modify or extend their original orders.
Individual State Orders
On March 23, 2020 California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye issued an order implementing temporary emergency measures unanimously approved at an emergency meeting of the Judicial Council.
Among the measures included in the order are:
- All jury trials are suspended and continued for 60 days. Courts may conduct a trial at an earlier date upon finding of good cause shown or through use of remote technology when appropriate.
- Time periods to begin civil trials is extended for 60 days, though courts may conduct trials earlier upon finding of good cause or through remote technology when appropriate.
- Superior courts, on a county by county basis, are authorized to adopt any proposed rules or rule amendment intended to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to take effect immediately, without advance circulation for public comment. A court adopting any such rule change must immediately distribute it, and no litigant’s substantive rights shall be prejudiced for failing to comply with the requirements of a new or amended rule until at least 20 days after its distribution.
The Chief Justice said her order is aimed at ensuring California courts—which remain open as “essential services” under Gov. Newsom’s stay-home executive order—meet stringent health directives, such as maintaining a six-foot distance from others, to curb the spread of COVID-19. She added, “Courts cannot comply with these health restrictions and continue to operate as they have in the past. Court proceedings require gatherings of court staff, litigants, attorneys, witnesses, and juries, well in excess of the numbers allowed for gathering under current executive and health orders. Many court facilities in California are ill-equipped to effectively allow the social distancing and other public health requirements required to protect people involved in court proceedings and prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”
In the 20th Judicial District (Boulder) Judges are presiding over only essential matters from now through May 31, 2020. All non-essential matters have been continued. This date could be shortened or lengthened as information on the pandemic unfolds. All civil hearings/trials scheduled for April and May 2020 have been continued. The court will reassess the situation in late April to determine if hearings/trials beyond May 2020 will need to be continued. The Court also stated it will look at resetting those hearings/trials, along with any trial management conferences, discovery or motions hearings, after it determines when it will be safe to resume a normal trial schedule. However, all deadlines under the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure remain in effect.
While the USDC of Colorado is closed to the public, it remains open to litigants and attorneys. All civil trials scheduled to begin on or before May 1, 2020 have been continued.
Governor Ned Lamont issued an order on March 10 shutting down non-essential businesses. Governor Lamont’s Order suspended, “for the duration of this public health and civil preparedness emergency, unless earlier modified or terminated by me, all statutory (1) location or venue requirements; (2) time requirements, statutes of limitation or other limitations or deadlines relating to service of process, court proceedings or court filings; and (3) all time requirements or deadlines related to the Supreme, Appellate and Superior courts or their judicial officials to issue notices, hold court, hear matters and/or render decisions.”
On March 30, per order of Judge James W. Abrams, Chief Administrative Judge for Civil Matters, all deadlines contained in Civil Scheduling Agreements and Case Management Orders were suspended until such time as Judicial Branch operations are fully restored.
Subsequently, Superior Courts for the Judicial Districts of Stamford, Ansonia-Milford, and Middlesex were closed and their cases transferred to other courthouses. Litchfield Judicial District Courthouse has been closed since March 26 and the Danbury Judicial District Courthouse since March 24.
While Federal District Courts remain open in a limited capacity, Chief United States District Court Judge Stefan Underhill issued an order continuing all jury trials scheduled to commence on or before May 15, 2020. Judge Underhill further suspended all in-person civil and criminal proceedings scheduled to commence on or before May 15, 2020. These Orders allow individual judges discretion to handle matters via videoconference or teleconference.
On April 6, the Florida Supreme Court entered an Order governing courthouses and case administration, which is effective through May 29, 2020. The Order suspends all scheduled jury trials and limited in-person hearings to essential proceedings and proceedings critical to the state of emergency or the public health emergency. The Order encourages the use of technology to administer cases as determined on a case-by-case basis. The Order also gives individual chief judges the discretion to cancel or continue certain proceedings.
On April 3, 2020 Chief District Judge K Michael Moore issued a third order for the United States District Court for the District of Southern Florida continuing all jury trials scheduled to begin on or before March 30, 20202 to July 6, 2020. This order also gave individual judges the discretion to continue all trial specific deadlines in civil cases. Judges are encouraged to hold hearing, conferences and bench trials in their discretion, consistent with the Order and are encouraged to conduct court proceedings by telephone or video conferencing.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, by Order dated April 1, 2020, continued its directed general closure of the Commonwealth’s courts through April 30th with the judicial districts’ president judges relatedly being authorized as believed appropriate grounded on local conditions within a court district to declare judicial emergencies until May 31, 2020. Courts remain open on a limited basis for the Pennsylvania counties currently experiencing the most significant surge of COVID-19 cases. The First Judicial District [Philadelphia County] is closed to the public for non-essential functions through May 1st, 2020, or until further order from the court. The 38th Judicial District [Montgomery County] declared a judicial emergency through April 30th closing the courts to the public except for emergency matters. In the 32nd Judicial District [Delaware County], an emergency order cancelled all criminal and civil trials through April 14th with a subsequent order continuing the judicial emergency until at least April 30th.
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania adjusted court operations in several areas and restricted access to the courthouses. For example, the local rule that counsel cannot electronically file initial papers in civil cases was suspended through at least April 13, 2020.
The Scranton and Harrisburg courthouses for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania were subject to brief closures in late March 2020. However, the Middle District remains open for official business subject to Orders of the Court. In that regard, a current standing order states that all hearings and proceedings in all civil and criminal matters through mid-May at the least that would involve the physical presence of counsel or any party or individual before the Court are continued.
The U.S. District for the Western District of Pennsylvania remains open and is conducting necessary judicial business (using technology as appropriate) and is accepting filings and responding to inquiries. Only essential staff are in our courthouses during business hours with the majority of staff teleworking. Although the physical courtrooms may not be in use, the Court is nevertheless open.
On April 1, 2020, The Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued an order extending certain limitations through May 4, 2020, which is subject to further extension. The initial orders dated March 13 and March 17, continued all jury trials and limited Courthouse appearances to emergency matters that could not be heard through videoconference or a telephonic hearing. As a result, all trials set to begin on or before May 1, 2020 are continued to a date no earlier than May 4, unless the trial is a bench trial in a civil matter and may be conducted otherwise than in-person by agreement. Courthouses will also remain closed out the Public except to conduct the aforementioned emergency hearings requiring an in-person appearance.
The Order also tolls all statutes of limitation and all states that all deadlines set forth in statutes or court rules, standing orders, tracking orders, or guidelines that expired or will expire between March 16, 2020, and May 4, 2020, are tolled until May 4, 2020, and the new deadline in each instance is calculated as follows: determine how many days remained after March 16, 2020, until the original deadline, and that same number of days will remain as of May 4, 2020, until the new deadline.
On March 30, 2020, the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued an order continuing all jury trials scheduled to begin on or before May 29, 2020. This Order updated a prior Order issued on March 12, which continued all trials through April 27 and further allowed individual judges the discretion to continue all case specific deadlines in civil cases. On March 31, the Court issued a supplemental Order suspending all Court annexed mediations through May 29 as well.
Pursuant to Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks’ Administrative Order 85/20, New York courts have expanded virtual operations and remote access to non-essential court matters. Effective April 13, 2020, courts will conduct case inventories for pending non-essential matters then schedule remote conferences to facilitate resolution of contested issues, or the case as a whole. Parties in non-essential pending matters may also request telephonic and/or video conferences with the court. In addition, courts will begin to address outstanding and previously-submitted motions. Further, courts will be available by telephone or video conferencing during regular business hours to address parties’ pending ad hoc oral applications. Notably, filing new non-essential matters, or new papers in pending non-essential cases, will continue to be prohibited.
SDNY Updates: No matters will be heard at the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse (40 Foley Street) from April 13- May 4. The Moynihan Courthouse (500 Pearl Street/200 Worth Street) is open only for urgent criminal matters. Jury Trials have been suspended until June 1.
Pursuant to New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner’s March 27, 2020 omnibus order, non-emergent in-person court proceedings in New Jersey continue to be postponed. Until further notice, (except for limited emergent matters and certain ongoing trials) there are no in-person Superior and Tax Court proceedings. Further, no new civil or criminal jury trials will be conducted. To the extent possible, courts are still conducting motions, hearings and case management conferences by telephone or video conference. In addition, the New Jersey Judiciary has relaxed court rules pertaining to discovery end dates, summary judgment motion deadlines and trial assignments. Deadlines pertaining to statutes of limitations, tort claim notices, service of process and discovery disputes have also been extended through April 26, 2020. In computing a statute of limitations filing deadline, the period from March 28 through April 26, 2020 has been deemed the same as a legal holiday and shall be tolled as such.
DNJ Updates: As set forth in Standing Orders 2020-02, 2020-03 and 2020-04 executed by US Chief District Judge Freda L. Wolfson, civil and criminal jury selections and trials scheduled to begin before April 30, 2020 are continued. However, judges may continue to hold hearings and conferences by telephone or videoconferencing where practicable. In addition, all filing and discovery deadlines in civil matters falling between March 25, 2020 and April 30, 2020 have been extended by forty-five (45) days, absent a presiding judge’s direction otherwise. Notably, this extension does not toll or extend any applicable statutes of limitations, and it does not apply to any previously-scheduled conference dates.
On March 13 the State of Texas issued an emergency order which provided Courts the discretion to modify or suspend deadlines and procedures (whether by statute, rule, or order) and to allow for telephonic or videoconference appearances. On March 19, a third emergency order prohibited courts from conducting non-essential proceedings contrary to local, state or national directive, whichever is the most restrictive, regarding maximum group size. On April 1, the deadlines for the filing or service of any case were tolled from March 13 to June 1.
On April 3, Chief Judge Lee H. Rosenthal issued an order continuing all jury trial through May 31 at a date to be reset by the individual presiding judge. However the Order did not affect any other deadlines than the jury trial dates. On April 10, Chief Judge Rosenthal entered an Order closing the Bob Casey U.S. Courthouse to everyone except Judges and their staff until April 17, at which time the Courthouse will re-open to certain tenants and employees. The Courthouse will be closed to the Public until May 1. The Order clarified that the USDC for the Southern District of Texas remains open for business despite the physical closure of the building and that parties may continue to e-file documents pursuant to standing orders.