Like most industries, the justice system has not been immune to the impacts of COVID-19. Many courts have issued orders which drastically alter the timeline of cases in unprecedented ways. This article summarizes the response of Virginia’s state and federal courts and the impact on active civil cases and on new cases filed during the health emergency.
Coronavirus’ Impact on Existing Cases in Virginia’s State Courts
On March 16, 2020, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia entered an Order declaring a judicial emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic (the “Order”). This Order implemented sweeping changes to all cases being actively litigated and had an initial duration through April 6, 2020. The duration has now been extended through April 26, 2020. Given the Governor’s stay-at-home order through June 10, 2020, we expect the Supreme Court’s Order to be extended as well.
Extended Deadlines and Continuations
The Order explains that while the clerks’ offices will remain open and operational, all applicable deadlines, time schedules, filing requirements and statutes of limitations that would run while the Order is in effect are extended for the duration of the Order.
The most important takeaway is if you have a civil matter pending in Virginia state courts, the court has put all of those matters generally on pause until at least April 26, 2020. Because the statutes of limitations in cases have also been suspended during the duration of the Order, litigants may have additional time to file (or refile) a civil suit as well.
The suspension of statutes of limitations is a particularly unprecedented and extraordinary remedy. Under this order, all civil, traffic, and criminal matters (except for emergency matters) are automatically continued until the end date specified by the Order. Judges may still exercise their discretion in hearing cases in order to protect important liberty and constitutional interests.
Attendance and Video Conferencing
The Order also emphasizes courts should use video conferencing to hold hearings when the use of such technology is permitted by law. If participants in a proceeding are not able to participate via a secure video conferencing platform, the Court is permitted to allow participants to participate via telephone. The Order also provides restrictions on ceremonies, courtroom attendance, and criminal matters in order to help slow the spread of Coronavirus.
Discovery and Depositions
Nothing in the Order prevents the serving of written discovery (though the answering of discovery may be delayed). Depositions also may be taken, if the parties agree. Technological solutions to in-person meetings and depositions such as through videoconference may be used if the parties agree.
Coronavirus’ Impact on New Cases Being Filed in Virginia’s State Courts.
Clerks’ offices remain open for now and are receiving paper and electronic filing depending on the jurisdiction. This means for the time being courts are still accepting new lawsuits. The manner and method of filing may have been altered by the Order, but many courts continue to accept paper filing. Because deadlines have been extended through the duration of the Order, a potential defendant would have more time than usual to file a responsive pleading. Nonetheless, many alternative dispute resolution methods including arbitration and mediation continue to be offered during this time, and many neutrals are offering their services via videoconference.
Coronavirus’ Impact on New Cases Being Filed in Virginia’s Federal Courts.
Restrictions on Proceedings
Both the Western District of Virginia (WDVA) and the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) have issued orders restricting visitors and proceedings. Both districts have, as a general rule, continued all civil proceedings that were scheduled to occur on or before May 1, 2020.
Absent a specific order, filing deadlines falling on or before April 14, 2020, in the EDVA have been extended by 14 days. In contrast, the WDVA has left decisions about pretrial deadlines to the presiding judge. For the time being, both jurisdictions still accept filings and accommodate the use of videoconferencing technology as much as possible in both civil and criminal proceedings.
In another unprecedented move, the EDVA closed the U.S. Courthouse in Newport News to the public and to all employees unless it is activated as an Emergency Judicial Center. The EDVA explained the U.S. Courthouse in Newport News will be “sanitized and preserved for safe use, in order to serve as a ‘last resort’ location for court proceedings or emergency functions” if all other courthouses in the EDVA are rendered unusable.
Litigation Practice at Woods Rogers
Woods Rogers has access to advanced videoconferencing technology and IT solutions. Therefore, our attorneys continue to advance litigation for our clients to whatever extent possible instead of automatically accepting a pause.
If you have any questions regarding how your litigation could be impacted by COVID-19, be sure to contact a Woods Rogers litigation attorney.