Just as it’s impacting every other facet of life around the world, COVID-19 (coronavirus) is having a significant impact on service of process and the legal system. As courts adjust their operations in accordance with Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations, we’ve seen significant changes to how the legal system is moving forward: videoconferencing for oral arguments, suspension of trials in certain circumstances, and restricted access to courthouses.
In addition to these changes, courts are also implementing other changes, such as the suspension of foreclosures and sheriff sales. Similar to previous moratoriums or suspensions, it’s likely that once the courts return to regular operations there will likely be a backlog in the legal system as everyone works to catch up on weeks and months of legal issues.
Suspension of trials
In an effort to reduce the contact between individuals, courts have continued civil or criminal trials for a number of time frames. Here are some of the states that have issued orders regarding the continuance of trials:
- Middle District of Alabama – Order GO-3910-02 and General Order 3910-03: Civil and criminal jury trials continued for 30 days from March 17, 2020 until further order of the court.
- District of Alaska – Order 20-6: Civil and criminal jury trials scheduled to start on May 4, 2020 or earlier are continued and trial-specific deadlines in criminal cases scheduled to begin before May 4, 2020 are continued. Judges can continue trial-specific deadlines in civil cases at their discretion.
- Eastern District of Arkansas – Order and Administrative Order Two: Civil jury trials scheduled between March 18, 2020 and April 30, 2020 are canceled. All criminal jury trials scheduled between March 23 and April 30 are continued.
- Western District of Arkansas – Order 2020-1: Civil and criminal trials (bench and jury) are continued and will be rescheduled to a date after May 1, 2020
- Central District of California – Order 20:2: Civil and criminal jury trials in the Central District of California scheduled to begin during this time period are continued pending further order of the Court.
- Eastern District of California – Order 611: Civil and criminal jury trials scheduled to begin before May 1, 2020 are continued
- Northern District of California – General Order No. 72, General Order No. 73: No civil or criminal jury trial will start before May 1, 2020 and any trial dates currently scheduled during that time frame are vacated. Grand jury proceedings are suspended until May 1, 2020
- Southern District of California – Order No.17 and Order No.:
- Southern District of Florida – Administrative Order 2020-18: Jury trials scheduled to begin on or after March 16, 2020, until March 30, 2020, are continued
- Middle District of Georgia – Standing Order 2020-01: Jury trials have been continued for 60 days from the date of the order
- Northern District of Georgia – Order 20-01: Jury trials (and trial-specific deadlines) continued for 30 days as of March 16, 2020
- District of Hawaii – Order: Civil and criminal trials scheduled between March 17, 2020 and May 3, 2020 are continued
- District of Idaho – General Order No. 360: Jury trials and grand jury proceedings scheduled to begin on or before May 11, 2020 are continued
- Central District of Illinois – Order: Civil and criminal jury trials scheduled for before April 3, 2020 continued
- Northern District of Illinois – General Order 20-0012: Civil case hearings, trials, and settlement conferences scheduled from March 17, 2020 until April 3, 2020 are stricken from the calendar
- Southern District of Indiana – Order: Jury trials are continued through and including at least May 1, 2020
- Northern District of Iowa – Order 20-AO-0002-P: Civil and criminal jury trials scheduled to commence on or before April 24, 2020 are continued
- Southern District of Iowa – Trial Order: Civil and criminal jury trials currently set until May 4, 2020 are continued
- District of New Jersey – Standing Order 20-02, Standing Order 20-3: Civil and criminal jury selections and jury trials scheduled to begin before April 30, 2020 are continued
- Eastern District of New York – Administrative Order 2020-06: Civil and criminal jury trials scheduled to begin before April 27, 2020 are continued
- Northern District of New York – General Order #58: Civil and criminal jury selections and jury trials scheduled to begin through April 30, 2020 are continued
- Southern District of New York – Standing Order (M10-468) (Continuance of Jury Trial): Civil and criminal jury trials scheduled to begin before April 27, 2020 are continued
Some states stopping service of process entirely
In the Southern District of New York, Order M10-468, any personal service has been suspended until further notice as of March 13, 2020. This order doesn’t apply to mail or electronic service.
Additionally, state wide orders which require all non-essential personnel to stay home will also impact the ability to effectuate service.
In other states, process servers remain uncertain as to what the next weeks will bring for service in their jurisdiction.
The National Association of Process Servers President, Jillina Kwiatkowski, has sent a request in to the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, requesting guidance as to how to proceed with service. Jillina requested the Governor declare a moratorium, as well as a tolling of statute of limitations and a fixed time period for serving and filing documents. Read the full letter here.
While these changes are necessary in order to comply with the CDC recommendations, continuing to allow electronic service and cases to move forward where possible without needing to be present in person will help reduce an inevitable backlog once the courts resume their previous operations.