NY Gov. Pauses Court Deadlines Over COVID-19

By Emma Whitford
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Law360 (March 23, 2020, 9:13 AM EDT) -- New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday paused the statute of limitations in all criminal and civil cases until April 19, following calls from legislators and advocates to prevent person-to-person contact in courthouses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effective Friday, the clock has stopped until mid-April for attorneys to file a lawsuit within statutory time limits.

"Any specific time limit for the commencement, filing, or service of any legal action, notice, motion, or other process or proceeding… is hereby tolled from the date of this executive order until April 19, 2020," Cuomo wrote.

In accordance with Cuomo's order, attorneys cannot purchase index numbers for most cases until April 19 "at the earliest," Office of Court Administration spokesperson Lucian Chalfen told Law360 on Saturday.

Exceptions include emergency applications listed on the OCA website, such as child protection and juvenile delinquency cases, emergency protection orders, landlord lockouts and repair orders.

Eviction and nonpayment applications are considered nonemergencies and are now on pause, Chalfen confirmed.

Law360 reported Wednesday that courts were still accepting new nonpayment and eviction cases, despite an order that "all eviction proceedings and pending eviction orders shall be suspended statewide until further notice."

State courts would continue accepting application unless Cuomo suspended the statute of limitations, Chalfen said at the time.

Judith Goldiner, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society, told Law360 Friday that her office received a few calls from confused tenants notified of new cases filed against them.

"We've been hearing that people are getting nonpayment cases and they don't know what to do because the cases say they have to show up in court in a period of time, and yet they're being told they're not supposed to leave their house," Goldiner said.

"To the extent that people call us we tell them they don't have to go, you're not defaulted, but we're concerned that a lot of people don't know and will be panicked," she added.

The new guidelines from Cuomo and the OCA mean "tenants will not receive confusing notices," said Patrick Tyrrell, a staff attorney for Mobilization for Justice.

"Suspended filings will also slow down the onslaught of backlogged cases once the courts reopen," he added.

On Thursday, a group of 18 state senators sent a letter to Cuomo asking that he use his power under the state's emergency laws to toll the statute of limitations in both criminal and civil cases.

"While the general public and the judicial branch of New York's state government are taking life-altering measures to limit exposure to COVID-19, the clock continues ticking on the time during which civil claims may be initiated and criminal charges filed," the letter said. "Prosecutors, litigants and attorneys should not have to choose between placing themselves at risk of exposure to COVID-19 and pursuing civil and criminal justice."

Cuomo's Friday order also instated a 90-day moratorium on residential and commercial evictions and foreclosures. 

"There shall be no enforcement of either an eviction of any tenant residential or commercial, or a foreclosure of any residential or commercial property for a period of ninety days," he wrote. 

--Additional reporting by Emma Cueto. Editing by Katherine Rautenberg.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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