New York State courts are moving a critical step closer to reopening on May 25, 2020, despite only seven of the ten regions of the state having met the reopening metrics as set out by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New York Forward program.
As we all know, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a series of executive orders to encourage social distancing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including executive order 202.8 (Continuing Temporary Suspension and Modification of Laws Relating to the Disaster Emergency), known by many as the New York PAUSE order. This executive order requires closure of all non-essential on-site businesses and suspended all state-law based statutes of limitations through June 6, 2020.
The New York State Unified Court System issued administrative orders and guidance consistent with the executive orders and limited both paper and electronic filings to “essential matters” only. These include certain criminal and family court matters, housing matters related to serious code violations or lockouts, and other emergency applications.
Over time, state courts have gradually expanded operations, allowing virtual case conferencing and new filings in non-essential matters already pending in court. New lawsuits or actions, if considered “non-essential,” however, were barred from being filed.
On May 18, 2020, certain regions of New York State that met the New York Forward criteria began “Phase 1” reopening, and corresponding judicial districts also began to expand services, including the allowance for new case filings and even limited access to in-person courthouse appearances in those areas.
As of Monday, May 25, 2020 (Memorial Day), ALL New York State courts, including those in all counties of New York City and Long Island – regions not yet deemed to be fit to begin reopening as per the Governor’s guidelines – will accept new matters, essential and non-essential, filed electronically through the New York State Court Electronic Filing (NYSCEF) system. A severe backlog of state court case filings is expected, given that the PAUSE has been in place for more than two months.
Although parties may begin electronically filing new lawsuits, litigants and attorneys should keep in mind that the Governor imposed a moratorium on eviction actions and particular foreclosure proceedings until August 20, 2020.
Chief Administrative Judge for New York State, Lawrence K. Marks said in a memo, “this expanded use of [NYS Courts Electronic Filing] will permit a significant broadening of civil litigation in a manner that continues to ensure the highest measure of health and safety to judges, court personnel and the public.”
The courts are a pivotal piece of our society, and such unprecedented limitations on access to the judicial system may lead to serious repercussions for years to come. Many litigants may need to consider whether they can reach solutions to disputes outside of the court systems and whether restrictions, such as virtual versions of conferencing, hearings, or depositions, may not offer the same degree of fairness as corresponding in-person versions. Nonetheless, the statewide acceptance of new non-essential cases is a big step towards normalcy, even if it will be a new normal.
If you need help filing a case or have any questions on the process or alternative dispute options, please email Rooney Nimmo litigation partner J. Joan Hon or call us at 212 545 8022.
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