By Meredith Jones-McKeown and Torryn Rodgers

On April 6, 2020, California’s Judicial Council enacted 11 emergency rule changes in response to the quickly evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The changes follow Governor Gavin Newsom’s March 27 executive order granting the Council extended leeway in setting statewide trial court orders addressing COVID-19 and demonstrate efforts by the Council to balance protection of the public health with basic operations of the judicial system.

Key rule changes include the following:

  • Tolling the statutes of limitation for civil causes of action. Notwithstanding other laws, the Council moved to toll all civil causes of action as of April 6, 2020 to 90 days after the Governor declares California’s COVID-19 state of emergency lifted. (Emergency Rule 9.)
  • Allowing video or other remote court proceedings. Courts may require judicial proceedings and other court operations to be conducted remotely. For civil actions, the rule defines remote proceedings to include
    • the use of video, audio, and telephonic means for remote appearances;
    • the electronic exchange and authentication of documentary evidence;
    • e-filing and e-service;
    • the use of remote interpreting; and
    • the use of remote reporting and electronic recording to make the official record of an action or proceeding.

(Emergency Rule 3.)

  • Extending the time in which to bring civil matters to trial. For all civil actions filed on or before April 6, 2020, the five-year timeline in which to bring civil matters to trial is extended by six months. Further, for all civil actions in which a new trial is granted, the three-year statutory timeline in which the action must again be brought to trial is also extended by six months. (Emergency Rule 10.)
  • Remote depositions. Under normal California Civil Procedure, the witness must always be in the physical presence of the Court Reporter. Under Emergency Rule 11, party and nonparty deponents may, at their election or the election of the deposing party, appear remotely for deposition. (Emergency Rule 11.)
  • Continuance of time relating to civil TROs. Any temporary restraining orders (TROs) that were issued or set to expire during the state of emergency related to COVID-19 will be continued for a period of time the court determines sufficient to allow for hearings on the long-term orders to occur, for up to 90 days. Post-hearing restraining orders that are set to expire during the state of emergency will be automatically extended for up to 90 days from the date of expiration to allow protected parties to seek a renewal of the restraining order. (Emergency Rule 8.)

Many of the rules contain sunset provisions allowing them to remain in effect until 90 days following the lifting of California’s state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic, or until later amendment or repeal by the Council.