The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect nearly every aspect of the legal profession, and practice in the BLS is no exception. Massachusetts courts have issued orders in recent weeks in an effort to maintain critical court operations, reduce the number of people entering courthouses, and alleviate the pressure of impending deadlines.
Key provisions of these orders are summarized below:
- In Person Appearances for Emergencies Only
- Until at least May 4, Superior Court courthouses are closed to the general public, except as required to address emergency matters.
- Emergency matters are defined as: (1) “Mary Moe” petitions pursuant to G. L. c. 112, § 12S, and (2) any matter that a judge determines requires an in-person proceeding that cannot be resolved virtually.
- Virtual Hearings for Time Sensitive Matters
- Certain time-sensitive matters will be held either by videoconference or telephonically, unless a judge determines that doing so is not practicable or would be inconsistent with the protection of constitutional rights.
- Presumptively time-sensitive matters are primarily criminal, and include: bail reviews and bail determinations, wiretap warrants, dangerousness hearings, probable cause hearings for sexual dangerousness, hearings on domestic violence restraining orders and harassment prevention orders, actions concerning compelled isolation or quarantine, and requests for temporary restraining orders.
- Clerks’ Offices Remain Open
- Clerks’ offices remain open to answer questions, conduct court business, accept pleadings, and facilitate hearings in emergency matters.
- Superior Courts, including the BLS, will not accept filings from couriers or FedEx until May 4, unless the matter is an emergency. Parties may submit a filing by regular mail, though docket postings may be delayed for several weeks. Electronic filings are impermissible except by the e-filing system in Worcester, Middlesex, and Barnstable counties.*
- Continuances, Tolling, and Other Deadline Considerations
- All trials scheduled to begin between March 13, 2020, and May 1, 2020, are continued to a date no earlier than May 4, 2020, unless the trial is a civil bench trial and may be conducted virtually (by agreement of the parties and the court).
- Any party who has had a trial or evidentiary hearing postponed may apply for a virtual conference with the judge to address matters arising from the postponement.
- All statutes of limitation are tolled from March 17, 2020, through May 3, 2020.
- Unless otherwise ordered by a judge, all deadlines (set by statute, court rules, standing orders, tracking orders, or guidelines) that have expired or will expire between March 16, 2020, and May 4, 2020, are tolled until May 4, 2020. The new deadline is calculated as follows: “determine how many days remained after March 16, 2020, until the original deadline, and that same number of days will remain as of May 4, 2020, until the new deadline.”
- Injunctions and similar orders issued before March 17, 2020, that enjoin, restrain, or prohibit a party from taking certain action or engaging in certain conduct until a date between March 16, 2020, and May 4, 2020, will remain in effect until the matter is rescheduled and heard.
- Service by Email
- On March 30, 2020 the Supreme Judicial Court issued an order permitting service of pleadings under Mass. R. Civil P. 5(b) by email. Parties should include on all filings, “served via email.”
- Where pleadings include an affidavit signed under the penalties of perjury, if the party making service is unable to secure the affiant’s original written signature (or a scanned copy) due to the coronavirus, the affidavit may still be served and filed with the court if the affiant has signed the affidavit electronically. The party making service should secure and file the original affidavit as soon as practicable.
* This information is based on communications with the Suffolk Superior Court Clerk Office.