By Order dated April 8, 2020, the President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County directed all counsel to advance civil litigation in a safe manner consistent with appropriate social distancing practices. Thus, while the Courts remain closed for trials, arbitrations, motions and hearings, the Order advises and directs that:
- Electronic filing is open for filing and docketing of all legal papers;
- To the extent practicable, parties shall engage in discovery consistent with governing scheduling orders, including depositions. Depositions, if practicable, should be conducted remotely via telephone or video teleconference. The Court has suspended the Rule that provides that the Court Reporter must be in same location as the deponent.
- Depositions of doctors, nurses or other healthcare personnel are suspended, provided these healthcare personnel are substantially involved in responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
By virtue of this Order, the Court has clearly signaled civil litigants to attempt to move cases along in the discovery process. On a practical level, in cases with an upcoming Discovery Deadline, in which there is discovery that remains to be completed, we will need to try to complete the same as the Court many not accept the "public health emergency" as a valid excuse for a party not engaging in discovery.
Thus, depositions may need to be taken via video teleconference so as to not risk the possibility that the same will later be permitted due to the Court’s closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Order also indicates that the closure of the Court cannot be utilized as an excuse to provide responses to written discovery requests. Accordingly, we will continue to serve and respond to written discovery in all pending matters.
As the Court has utilized the phrase "to the extent practicable" the directive is not ironclad and we would anticipate that certain exceptions to this Order will be made on a case by case basis. If, in a particular matter, the COVID-19 public health crisis effectively prevents us from engaging in discovery or is being utilized by opposing counsel to frustrate the discovery process, we will certainly document these issues accordingly so that we will be in a position to address this with the Court at a later date.
In addition to striving to maintain progress on pending matters, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has directed the Courts of Common Pleas in the Commonwealth to remain open to accept the filing of Writs of Summons/Complaints in order to preserve the Statute of Limitations. The Statute of Limitations has not been tolled in Pennsylvania due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If certain Courts of Common Pleas do not have electronic filing systems in place and are not staffed with personnel to accept the filing of a Writ of Summons or Complaints to preserve the Statute of Limitations, attorneys have been directed by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to file the same with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Such a filing with the Superior Court will be deemed as preserving the statute of limitations. Service of process has not been declared an "essential function" of the Courts during this public health crisis. Thus, even though cases may be commenced during this time, the time deadlines for service of process are not in effect through at least April 30, 2020.
Please contact our office with any questions concerning the foregoing. We look forward to continuing to be of service to you and your insureds as we navigate this unique and challenging time for all of us.