The COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented disruption to California’s judicial system.  As the pandemic continued, the Judicial Council of California and county court systems struggled to find ways to keep the wheels of justice moving for litigants, while also trying to protect the rights of parties who may have been denied full access to the courts due to lockdowns and other safety measures. To support essential court services during the pandemic, the Judicial Council adopted Emergency Rules to the California Rules of Court in April, 2020. The Emergency Rules were set to remain in effect until 90 days after the Governor declared the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency, or when they are revoked by the Judicial Council.

After the adoption of these rules, courts and counsel did their best to evaluate the impact of these new rules and to continue to move cases along in accordance with the new requirements.  Over the course of the pandemic, courts and counsel adapted to these new requirements and began to set dates in accordance with these new rules.

At the March 11, 2022 meeting of the Judicial Council of California, it was recommended that all statewide emergency rules sunset on June 30, 2022. Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye also rescinded all of her statewide emergency orders as of April 30, 2022. This included Emergency rule 10, which extended the time for parties to bring a civil action to trial.

The Judicial Council’s recommendation called for the following rules to sunset on June 30, 2022:

  • Emergency rule 3 (Remote technology in criminal proceedings)
  • Emergency rule 5 (Criminal appearance waivers)
  • Emergency rule 6 (Juvenile dependency proceedings)
  • Emergency rule 7 (Juvenile delinquency proceedings)
  • Emergency rule 8 (Temporary restraining or protective orders)
  • Emergency rule 9 (Tolling of statutes of limitations for civil causes of action)
  • Emergency rule 10 (Extensions of time in which to bring a civil action to trial)
  • Emergency rule 13 (Effective date for requests to modify support)

Causing particular confusion amongst courts and attorneys is Emergency rule 10, which provided for extensions of time in which to bring a civil action to trial. This rule reads as follows: “For all civil actions filed on or before April 6, 2020, the time in which to bring the action to trial is extended by six months beyond the normal five-year limit. And for all civil actions filed on or before April 6, 2020, where a new trial is granted, the time to bring the action to trial again is extended by six months beyond the normal three-year limit.”

For reference, the timeline of the emergency rules and their dates of effectiveness appear below:

  • March 4, 2020: Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19 in California.
  • March 27, 2020: Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-38-20, which gave the Judicial Council of California and its Chairperson, the authority to take actions necessary to maintain access to the essential operations of California’s court system while protecting the health and safety of California residents.
  • During 2020, the Judicial Council adopted 13 emergency rules and the Chief Justice signed four statewide emergency orders under her constitutional and other legal authority, including emergency rule 10.
  • February 17, 2022: Governor Newsom announced a new plan for the state as we move from the pandemic phase of COVID-19 to a new endemic phase.
  • February 25, 2022: Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-04-22, which states that many executive orders that Governor Newsom issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will expire between February 25, 2022 and June 30, 2022.
  • Executive Order N-38-20 is among the last group of these executive orders rescinded by the Judicial Council and set to expire on June 30, 2022.

With the sunsetting of the emergency rules, California and the nation mark an important milestone as it moves forward out of the pandemic, but getting back to “normal” also comes with needed clarification of the practical implications of the sunsetting of the emergency rules. In many cases, in reliance on the emergency rules extending the five-year deadline, courts have set trial dates which may now conflict with the five-year rule.   Different districts and judges seem to have varying interpretations of the timing allowed to extend civil cases now that Emergency rule 10 is set to phase out at the end of June.

In a recent case addressing this issue, Ables v. Ghazale Brothers, Inc., the Court of Appeals affirmed a dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim for failure to bring their action within the time period required by Code of Civil Procedure, section 583.310. That provision states, “If the time within an action must be brought to trial is tolled or otherwise extended pursuant to statute, the action shall not be dismissed…if the action is brought within six months after the end of the period of tolling or extension.”

Although the court considered Emergency rule 10 in its determination, ultimately it found that the emergency provision was an administrative rule and does not have the force and effect of a statute. Thus, it would not trigger the six month extension available under section 583. 350.

Clients and interested parties should consult with legal counsel to ensure that deadlines for all actions are met and in compliance with their particular court’s understanding of the sunsetting of Emergency rule 10. The attorneys at Wood Smith Henning & Berman are keeping close watch on this evolving situation and stand ready to provide guidance in this area. Please do not hesitate to reach out to a member of our team with any questions or concerns.

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