On March 18, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered that all Pennsylvania courts – including trial and intermediate appellate courts – would close to the public for non-essential functions. The Court suspended all time calculations and deadlines relevant to court cases or other judicial business. In addition, court calendars, scheduling notices, subpoenas or other court orders compelling appearance by any attorney, litigant or other participant in non-essential cases were continued or postponed until further order. The Court also authorized and encouraged the use of advanced communication technology to conduct emergency court proceedings. Essential functions in the Courts of Common Pleas include the following civil matters:
- Temporary protection from abuse hearings;
- Emergency petitions for child custody;
- Emergency petitions for guardianship;
- Civil mental health reviews;
- Any pleadings or motions relating to public health concerns and involving immediate and irreparable harm; and
- Any other function deemed by a President Judge to be essential consistent with constitutional requirements.
On April 28, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an Emergency Order that extends the judicial emergency through June 1, 2020. Jury trials for civil and criminal cases remain suspended for the foreseeable future. However, the Order also directed county courts to restore some operations and end the statewide suspension of time calculations and deadlines as of May 11, 2020. All courts are required to provide for court filings by means other than in-person delivery whenever possible. Any state or local rule that impedes an alternative means of filing is suspended through June 1, 2020. In light of the Governor’s reclassification of legal services, the April 28thOrder also enables lawyers to resume access to their offices for certain functions on a limited basis, and lifts restrictions on certain court functions, as well as litigation deadlines.
Legal papers or pleadings which are required to be filed between March 19, 2020 and May 8, 2020, generally shall be deemed to have been filed timely if they are filed by close of business on May 11, 2020. Attorneys are encouraged to conduct depositions remotely, via telephone, videoconference or similar means. Court reporters are not required to be present in the same location as a deposing attorney or witness, unless there are specific concerns raised by either party. Depositions of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, as well as required appearances, are suspended through June 1, 2020.
In-person payments to Magisterial District Courts have been suspended since March 18, 2020, but the courts are still accepting payments by mail, electronically, or by telephone. Prior to a payment determination hearing, a missed payment or default will not result in the issuance of an arrest warrant for failure to make a payment, nor will the nonpayment result in driving privileges being suspended until there is opportunity for a hearing.
CIVIL MATTERS IN LANCASTER COUNTY
An Administrative Order issued on April 1, 2020 held that civil jury and non-jury trials were suspended pending further notice. On April 24, 2020, the Court of Common Pleas for Lancaster County issued an Administrative Order that extended this closure through May 31, 2020. Civil trials scheduled for June 2020 are to be rescheduled by the presiding judge after consultation with the President Judge. Civil nonjury trials may be scheduled with permission of the President Judge. Emergency motions and petitions for injunctive relief are restricted to matters involving public health and safety (i.e., taking of residential property, ejectment, eviction, suspension of utilities).
Any legal papers or pleadings which were required to be filed between March 18, 2020 and April 30, 2020 shall be deemed timely filed if they are filed within 60 days of the original filing deadlines. Legal papers or pleadings required to be filed between May 1, 2020 and May 31, 2020 shall be deemed timely filed if they are filed within 30 days of the original filing deadline. Further extensions of time may be granted by an appellate court, the presiding judge, stipulation of the parties, or Administrative Order.
Each presiding judge or Magisterial District Court may conduct business as it deems appropriate and feasible, so long as the business is approved by the President Judge and conducted by advanced communication technology, unless otherwise approved by the President Judge.
All business conducted by the Lancaster County Courts shall adhere to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines.
FEDERAL COURTS: THIRD CIRCUIT AND DISTRICT COURTS
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Clerk’s Office conducting operations remotely. As of April 13, 2020, the Third Circuit issued a notice that the Clerk’s Office was able to receive filings through the Court’s e-filing system, by email, through the U.S. Mail and overnight mail, or by in-person filing via a time stamp and a drop box located on the first floor of the Courthouse.
On March 13, 2020, the United States District Courts for the Middle District and Eastern District of Pennsylvania continued all hearings and proceedings in all civil and criminal matters for a period of 60 days if they required the physical presence of any party, with certain exemptions for criminal trials, exigent circumstances or if the proceeding was conducted by video or audio teleconference.
The District Court for the Middle District issued a supplemental order that stated the Court would remain open for official business subject to the COVID-19 restrictions and directives. On April 8, 2020, the March 13th Order was extended through May 31, 2020.
On April 30, 2020, the District Court for the Eastern District extended the deadline for all federal seizures of property for a period of 60 days. The Court also extended the 90-day deadline for the filing of a civil forfeiture complaint or inclusion of an asset in a criminal indictment to 150 days for any administrative claim that was received by a federal agency between January 1, 2020 and April 30, 2020.
If you have questions about this or any other litigation matter, please contact Susan P. Peipher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-509-7239 or Jill M. Laskowitz at email@example.com or 717-509-7261.
**This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or as creating an attorney-client relationship where one does not already exist. This article was published on May 12, 2020. Please be aware that the laws and regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic are being updated rapidly. Please check back or contact us for the most up-to-date information.**