Welcome to Tuesday Talks by Metro Group, where we offer insight into issues shaping the current business environment. Metro Group regularly collaborates with partners across the shipping and logistics industry to stay ahead of the issues.
In this edition of Tuesday Trade Talks, we are pleased to feature COVID-19 court accessibility news around the country from Metro Group Maritime counsel and Director of Business Development Kate Ballengee, Esq. Kate has compiled the below list following input from our lawyer colleagues across the United States. Note that we have focused on those jurisdictions in which much of our transportation cases are heard and represent the major markets for the movement of freight and equipment in the United States.
California: The status of state courts in California are very dependent on county. Electronic submissions are being accepted. Movement of the cases are subject to the usual delays depending on county. Although the courts are processing writs, the Sheriffs are not serving and moving them. In-person hearings in most counties are extremely limited. Some counties are not allowing attorneys to file motions post-judgment.
The Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of California has extended their order regarding “Proceedings During The COVID-19 Public Emergency,” as many of the circumstances giving rise to the judicial emergency have not abated. Mediators in this District along with the Central District of California have the authority to excuse a party, a party’s representative, or an attorney from any in-person attendance at a mediation.
Florida: Currently, all of the Florida state courts are open, but not for in-person hearings. The courts have been hearing cases telephonically or via Zoom. It is our understanding that the courts may reopen in-person hearings the end of July 2020, but that is always subject to change. As far as new pleadings and motions, all documents are filed electronically and, therefore, there is no delay in any of the court filings. Some of the courts are backed up in entering defaults, but once a default is entered, the judges have expeditiously been entering final judgments. As far as executions, we are not aware of any courts that are currently delaying the entry of them. In the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, video and teleconference appearances are strongly urged but not required. There are no jury trials being held.
Illinois: As most of our Illinois cases are in Cook County (Chicago) this update specifically pertains to that county. At the end of May, we were informed that the County is
still negotiating with Zoom to obtain licenses to use that platform when courts reopen. Civil Cases under $30,000 were ordered to be advanced until at least August 5. Civil cases over $30,000 have been advanced by 5 or 7 weeks depending on the last set date. However, this is at least the third advancement of dates, and more could be ordered. Emergency matters can be heard at any time, if requested by litigants and approved by the Court. Filings are still being accepted and processed by the Clerk’s office. However, there is currently no mechanism to schedule a motion for entry of default judgment. The Governor entered an open-ended executive order forbidding the service of garnishments in consumer debt
cases. Since that time, Illinois counsel attempted one garnishment on a business debt, but were refused by Chase Bank, citing the Governor’s order, and there is no mechanism to contest the bank’s Answer at this time.
In the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, civil hearings, bench trials and settlement conferences can be conducted remotely, dependent on the presiding judge. Trials set to begin before August 3, 2020 will be reset by the presiding judge.
New Jersey: New Jersey state and federal courts are accepting electronic filing of new cases and pleadings in pending cases. As to hearings, most are held telephonically, if not adjourned. Some are held via teleconferencing, such as on Zoom. More motions are being decided on the papers than usual, especially in New Jersey state court.
New Jersey federal court motions have been mostly on the papers since before the COVID- 19 crisis. As to judgments, there seems to be a delay in entering judgments, though there is no moratorium on submitting any pleadings requesting judgment. It is hard to say if the delay is caused by backlog or something else. As to executions, we have not heard anything about a prohibition on bank levies or goods and chattels executions, but those types of judgment enforcement mechanism are always backed up in the populous counties.
New York: New York courts are now accepting pleadings after a 3-month hiatus. The New York Unified Court System has expanded in-person operations around the State in phases, however everything is backed up from 3 to 6 months. Executions are also backed up. As of July 6th, all visitors to New York courthouses and other facilities will be required to submit to temperature screening and questioning. During COVID-19, New York adopted a “virtual court” model whereby the various parties to litigation appear remotely through audiovisual appearances, telephone communications, and digitized exchanges of papers.
In the Southern District of New York, filings are done electronically and telephonic or Zoom hearings are being conducted dependent on the specific judge. There are no jury trials.
Texas: New pleadings can be submitted. Pursuant to the Texas Supreme Court’s Twelfth Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster (see https://txcourts.gov/media/1446470/209059.pdf ), courts should use “all reasonable efforts” to conduct proceedings remotely. This includes both essential and non-essential proceedings. Hearings may be done via Zoom, unless the litigants are unable to participate in a remote hearing for reasons beyond the court’s control. Courts may conduct hybrid hearings in certain proceedings.
In the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, the court has advised it will minimize the need for its employees, the attorneys and parties to deviate from the shelter- in-place order.