Texas Supreme Court Issues Emergency Order Regarding COVID-19, Potentially Extending All Applicable Statutes of Limitation:
On Friday, March 13, 2020, the Texas Supreme Court issued its “First Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster.” (Misc. Docket Nos. 20-9042 & 20-007. The Order can be accessed here: https://www.txcourts.gov/media/1446056/209042.pdf). The Order gives Texas courts the authority to modify or suspend “any and all deadlines and procedures” for a period ending no later than 30 days after the Governor’s disaster order is lifted—even “without a participant’s consent”—in order to “avoid risk to court staff, parties, attorneys, jurors, and the public.” It also grants Texas courts the authority to require that parties and witnesses participate in any proceeding remotely (e.g., by video or teleconference).
The Order also permits Texas courts to “extend the statute of limitations in any civil case” up to 30 days after the Governor’s disaster order is lifted. This is important to both plaintiffs hoping to file lawsuits during the affected time period and defendants seeking to dismiss claims on the basis of limitations, as that defense may no longer be available. But claimants should keep in mind that any extension is not mandatory, meaning that courts are not required to grant extensions in all cases. Plaintiffs should still seek to comply with applicable limitations periods; and, if unable to do so, be able to explain how any delay in filing is attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Order is effective as of March 13 and expires on May 8, but it may be renewed and/or extended by the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. It was issued pursuant to Texas Government Code Section 22.0035(b), which allows the Texas Supreme Court to “modify or suspend procedures for the conduct of any court proceeding affected by a disaster during the pendency of a disaster declared by the governor.” Orders such as this have been utilized with disasters in the past, including Hurricane Harvey, and have similarly allowed Texas courts to extend deadlines and statutes of limitations.
McDowell Hetherington is fully prepared to participate remotely in any proceeding if ordered to do so. We will continue to monitor the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on litigation in Texas and throughout the country.