Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal and state court systems have adjusted their policies and procedures to allow them to continue to handle ongoing cases and accept new matters. Here is a summary of the current status of the Massachusetts courts: 

1.     All Massachusetts Courts Are Closed for Three Weeks Except for Emergency Matters.  The Supreme Judicial Court announced on March 13, 2020 that all Massachusetts state courts are closed to the public except for emergency matters at least until April 6, 2020. Civil and criminal trials set to begin before April 17, 2020 have been postponed. Appellate cases set for argument in April will be decided on the papers. The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts and the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit have issued similar guidelines.

2.     Each Appellate and Trial Court Has Issued A Standing Order Governing How Its Docket Will Proceed. Each trial and appellate court has issued a standing order setting forth what constitutes an emergency matter and how other litigation will proceed during the pandemic. The trial court orders are available here.

3.     Despite the Court Closures, Litigation Continues. All pending motion and discovery deadlines have been extended at least until April 21, 2020; however, litigation nevertheless continues. Technology, such as video conferencing and teleconferencing, is allowing for attorneys to attend court hearings and conduct bench trials while the courts are closed. Depositions can be taken remotely by videoconferencing and new rules allow oaths to be taken remotely.

4.     You Can Still File New Litigation. The clerk’s offices are open to accept new cases. While the Supreme Judicial Court has tolled all statutes of limitations until April 21, 2020, it is best practice to file before a statute of limitations was originally set to run.  

5.     Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) May Be a Good Option. Mediation and arbitration, which operate outside the jurisdiction of the courts, may be a viable way to move disputes forward quickly during the pandemic. ADR providers are offering creative solutions to allow these forums to address disputes.

We will continue to keep you updated on how litigation and ADR are available to solve your business disputes during this unprecedented time. 

View the full article on COVID Considerations here.

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