New York Courts Severely Curtail Litigation Activity in Response to COVID-19 Crisis
Date: March 24, 2020
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State is taking extraordinary measures to curtail litigation activity to limit contact among attorneys, litigants, judges and courtroom staff. Most recently, on March 22, 2020, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks of the New York State Unified Court System entered an Administrative Order, effective immediately, prohibiting until further notice all filings in any non-essential matters, whether paper or electronic. The administrative order defines “essential proceedings” to include only a list of certain emergency hearings and applications in criminal; family; housing, civil and landlord/tenant; and mental health matters; as well as emergency applications related to the coronavirus.
The administrative order includes a catchall stating that filings may be accepted by the court in “any other matter that the court deems essential.” However, it is not clear how parties that have an urgent need for judicial intervention would seek to have the matter deemed “essential.” Until this is resolved, it is uncertain under what circumstances, and by what procedure, a party can make an emergency application that does not fall into one of the listed categories heard by the court, particularly when there is not already a pending action. Along the same lines, it is not clear whether a delay in seeking emergency intervention, such as a temporary restraining order, will be viewed as an indication that there is no immediate threat of irreparable injury and therefore that emergency relief is unwarranted. Litigants will need to monitor developments in the coming days to see whether this issue is resolved and if the court announces procedures for emergencies and essential matters not specified in the administrative order.
The chief administrative judge’s order follows several other drastic steps implemented in the past week. As of March 16, 2020, the chief administrative judge suspended all non-essential court functions except for trials that had already commenced, with Judicial Districts throughout the state, including New York County (Manhattan), administratively adjourning most appearances and placing only a single judge on duty to hear emergency applications. On March 20, 2020, by Executive Order, Governor Andrew Cuomo extended the time limits for many critical legal activities. The executive order tolled the statute of limitations in all legal actions, as well as the time limits for filing or serving a motion or other process or proceeding, until April 19, 2020. The executive order also imposed a 90?day moratorium on the enforcement of residential and commercial evictions.
New York courts are beginning to shift to remote operations in order to remain open for business, with the New York City Criminal Court and New York City Family Court announcing that they will conduct arraignments and other specified hearings by videoconference or telephone starting this week. It is yet to be seen whether remote proceedings will be held in other courts hearing non?essential matters, but it is a distinct possibility as the court system faces the prospect of prolonged court closures.
At this time, it is not known when courts will resume normal operations. While these emergency measures are in place, parties can and should continue litigation work outside of court, such as discovery, while understanding that court supervision, i.e., motion practice, is not available should disputes arise.
As the situation progresses, New York practitioners and litigants need to pay close attention to announcements by state and county judicial authorities, as well as the individual judges assigned to their matters. Those outside of New York should watch developments in the state as an indication of what they may face if the coronavirus outbreak worsens in their jurisdiction.
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For more information, please contact:
Emily J. Mathieu
Shaun D. McElhenny
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