In the wake of the measures necessitated by the COVID-19 outbreak, new questions arise every day as to how to maintain continuity of essential services. While the provision of health care remains the key priority, there will be a continuing need for people to have access to the courts. To that end, the court system has been carefully striking a balance between the need to safeguard the health of personnel and the general public and ensuring that there is continued access to justice. The solutions implemented by state and federal courts reflect that balance, allowing for parties to be heard on time-sensitive and emergency matters, while relaxing deadlines and restricting filings for matters that do not need to be reviewed on an emergency basis.
The following is a summary of measures taken by the various courts over the past two weeks to provide guidance as to how and when courts can be accessed:
- Statutes of Limitations: New York State courts have suspended all statutes of limitations and time limits “for the commencement, filing, or service of any legal action, notice, motion, or other process or proceeding, as prescribed by the procedural laws of the state, including but not limited to the criminal procedure law, the family court act, the civil practice law and rules, the court of claims act, the surrogate’s court procedure act, and the uniform court acts, or by any other statute, local law, ordinance, order, rule, or regulation, or part thereof…” until April 19, 2020. (Executive Order 202.8.)
- Filings: New York State courts will not be accepting for filing any papers for any civil matter, via hard copy or electronically, that is not deemed “essential” (e.g., some Mental Hygiene Law applications, orders of protection, emergency Election Law applications, applications addressing landlord lockouts, serious code violations and repair orders). (Administrative Order 78/20.)
- In-Person Appearance: New York State courts are discouraging the prosecution of all civil matters that require travel or in-person appearances, encouraging parties to agree to postpone proceedings due to failure to meet discovery deadlines for up to 90 days (or, if no agreement can be reached, the court will decide to defer proceedings themselves), and removing penalties for failure to comply with discovery deadlines. (Administrative Order 71/20.)
While the provision of health care remains the key priority, there will be a continuing need for people to have access to the courts.
- Non-essential Matters: In New York State Supreme Civil, Surrogate’s, City, Town and Village courts, all non-essential matters are administratively adjourned until a date on or after April 30, 2020.
- Appellate Matters: The New York Appellate Divisions have suspended indefinitely and until further directive of the Court all perfection, filing, and other deadlines set forth by any order or applicable rule.
- Evictions and Foreclosures: Statewide, courts cannot proceed with residential evictions, court-ordered auctions and residential foreclosure proceedings, and in the 9th Judicial District (consisting of Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland & Westchester Counties), courts are also directed not to grant default judgments.
- In-Person Workforce Reduction: Statewide, there is now a requirement in place (for all businesses) requiring that all non-essential businesses reduce in-person work forces by 100%. Law firms are considered essential businesses “only to the extent that their services are currently needed to support the essential functions of health care providers, utilities, state and local governments, the federal government, financial institutions, businesses that have been designated as essential; or to support criminal defendants in court proceedings or individuals in emergency family court proceedings; or to participate in proceedings concerning the imminent release or detention of individuals subject to criminal or civil detention under any applicable provision of state or federal law, or proceedings to address emergency risks to health, safety, or welfare.” (NY Executive Order 202.8.)
- Notary: To facilitate the completion of necessary forms, the State has also permitted remote notarization. (NY Executive Order 202.7.)
- Federal Court Access: In New York Federal Courts, access is restricted to “essential” case-related activities only. They have also suspended personal service of process in the Southern District of New York, in the Eastern District of New York, they have adjourned all jury trials scheduled to begin before April 27, 2020, pending further order of the Court, and the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is hearing regular argued appeals and motions calendars as scheduled, but by teleconference, and extending or tolling filing dates and other deadlines by 21 days, through May 17, 2020 (Second Circuit).
New updates are coming out daily, so be sure to review the website of any court where you may have a matter pending.