Texas Justices Unify Deadlines For COVID Extensions

By Michelle Casady
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Law360 (April 1, 2020, 6:12 PM EDT) -- The Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday delayed service deadlines and paused the statute of limitations in civil cases until June 1, just a few days after a broad coalition of attorneys pled for uniformity as state courts reacted differently to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The emergency order from the state's high court doesn't stop the clock on deadlines to file appeals or other appellate proceedings but instructs courts that any requests for tolling in those cases should be "generously granted."

A group of nine attorney organizations asked the Texas Supreme Court for uniform guidance in a March 27 letter, saying the court's language in a March 13 order could allow for different rules in each of the state's 254 counties.

Problems were already percolating when the attorneys turned to the state's high court for help, Jim Perdue of Perdue and Kidd, president-elect of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and the organizer of the effort to send the letter, told Law360 on Wednesday. Attorneys were facing limited access to county or district clerks, and process servers who "either cannot or will not engage in the system required of process," he said.

"Depending on the county, even with e-filing, you had limited access issues that varied by county, you had impossibility issues with getting citation ... and the service of that process," he said. "Those anecdotal stories were already coming in and were begging for some uniform guidance on the procedural issue of filing and serving a lawsuit given the times that we live in."

Perdue said he is pleased with the court's "quick turnaround" on the requested guidance.

The court's first emergency order on COVID-19 on March 13 stated that "all courts in Texas may extend the statute of limitations" until a month after the governor's state of disaster has been lifted.

But the use of the term "may" suggested there could be various applications or enforcement of the statute of limitations in each county, the attorneys said. That permissiveness "leaves courts, the bar and the parties with no understanding of how to address the potentially dispositive issue of limitations that are arising while the nation is in this moment of unprecedented crisis," they said.

Those who signed on to the letter are the presidents of the State Bar of Texas, the Litigation Section of the State Bar of Texas, the Texas Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, the Texas Association of Defense Counsel, the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, the Austin Bar Association, the Dallas Bar Association, the Houston Bar Association and the San Antonio Bar Association.

In a statement announcing the order, the Texas Supreme Court also noted that as of Wednesday, the Board of Law Examiners is still preparing to hold the state bar exam in July but will make a decision no later than May 5 about whether to postpone it.

If the test is postponed, it will be rescheduled for Sept. 29 through Oct. 1, the court said.

--Additional reporting by Hailey Konnath. Editing by Stephen Berg.

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

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