California Courts Call a “Time Out” During COVID-19 –New Emergency Court Rules on Civil Litigation
“We are at this point truly with no guidance in history, law, or precedent. To say that there is no playbook is a gross understatement of the situation.”
-Chief Justice and Chair of the California Judicial Council, Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye
Seeking to sustain essential court services while balancing weighty considerations, including litigants’ due process rights, access to justice, and stringent health and safety orders, the California Judicial Council has adopted Emergency Rules in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).
While many of the Emergency Rules focus on criminal and juvenile dependency matters, this update highlights the Emergency Rules immediately impacting civil litigation in California state courts. The following Emergency Rules remain in effect until 90 days after the Governor lifts the state of emergency or the rule is amended or repealed by the Judicial Council:
Tolling of Statutes of Limitation in Civil Actions
Effective April 6, 2020, the statutes of limitation (the time period in which to bring a claim) for all civil causes of action is tolled until such time as the rule is no longer in effect. The impact of this rule is that it provides plaintiffs with more time to bring claims and extends the time period that defendants may face legal action for alleged violations of the law.
Extension of Time to Bring a Civil Action to Trial
Similarly, another emergency rule extends the time in which civil actions filed on or before April 6, 2020 must be brought to trial from five years to five years and six months (or three years and six months if a new trial was granted in the action). This rule is also favorable to plaintiffs by providing additional time to investigate and prosecute their claims before trial.
Courts are now prohibited from issuing a summons in an unlawful detainer action filed after April 6, 2020, effectively banning new proceedings unless the court finds the eviction is necessary to protect public health and safety. For unlawful detainer proceedings commenced on or before April 6, 2020, defaults cannot be entered for a failure to appear and trial dates that were set as of April 6, 2020 will be continued at least 60 days, unless necessary to protect public health and safety.
Judicial foreclosure actions on a mortgage or deed of trust, including any action for a deficiency judgment, are stayed effective April 6, 2020 and the statute of limitations for filing a new judicial foreclosure action is tolled while the rule remains in effect.
Technology and Remote Proceedings
Courts may now require parties to appear for judicial proceedings remotely, though the significance of this rule will be on a court by court basis and dependent on the nature of the matter. A party taking a deposition, as well as the person being deposed, may elect to proceed with the deposition through electronic means, and neither can force an in-person deposition while the rule is in effect. Lastly, if a party to litigation requests electronic service of notices and documents, all parties represented by counsel must comply.
It is likely that these Emergency Rules may be revisited by the Judicial Council and that new or different rules will be enacted as the courts continue the balancing process. Additionally, each county has discretion to issue its own general orders and local rules and many are doing so on an ongoing basis to comply with local social distancing protocols. We can expect many of these emergency rules and orders to have a meaningful impact for clients involved in civil litigation, including by increasing efficiencies through the use of technology and remote proceedings.
California’s court system is the nation’s largest and these emergency measures have fundamentally altered civil litigation, potentially for years to come. However, these rules are only one set of considerations for those involved in or contemplating civil litigation. The landscape for civil litigation is changing frequently in each jurisdiction, requiring us as counsel to keep a close watch on court orders and local rules and to adapt quickly and plan strategically to meet the immediate and long term goals of each client.
The information in this client alert is general in nature and is intended only for informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. You should not rely on this information as it may not apply to your specific situation. Before acting or delaying action, you should seek the advice of an attorney.