AN UPDATE ON COURT CLOSURES AND LEGAL PROCEEDINGS IN LOUISIANA
As a resource for our clients and colleagues, we have summarized the Governor’s Proclamations and Orders of Louisiana state and federal courts as they relate to suspension of legal deadlines and the impact on legal proceedings.
Proclamations and Suspension of Legal Deadlines
On March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards issued Proclamation Number 30 JBE 2020 suspending certain legal deadlines, including liberative prescription and preemptive periods, until at least April 13, 2020. In addition, all other deadlines in legal proceedings in all courts, administrative agencies, and boards were suspended until April 13, 2020.
After this Proclamation, the Louisiana Supreme Court and the other courts of this state quickly issued their own orders continuing all jury trials and court appearances, with the exception of civil protective orders and other emergency matters, to be reset no earlier than March 30, 2020. The courts have since amended or updated their orders to clarify the impact of the Governor’s Proclamations on legal proceedings and filing deadlines, as well as to encourage litigants to utilize electronic and fax filings for all court filings.
On March 22, 2020, Governor Edwards issued Proclamation Number 33 JBE 2020 placing all individuals within the State of Louisiana under a general stay-at-home order and directing them to stay home unless performing an essential activity.
Most recently, on April 2, 2020, Governor Edwards extended the suspension of legal deadlines and deadlines in court and administrative proceedings until at least April 30, 2020 (Proclamation 41 JBE 2020) coinciding with the extension of the stay at home order now effective until at least April 30, 2020. Louisiana courts have amended their emergency orders again to reflect the extension of the suspensions of legal and court imposed deadlines.
As it stands now, and this could certainly change, most if not all courts are set to reopen on or around May 4, 2020.
The following is an overview of the updated orders issued by courts where we most frequently find ourselves representing our clients and the impact of the orders on civil matters only. This is only a summary and not an exhaustive look at each of the court orders.
Louisiana Supreme Court
On March 16, March 20, and March 23, 2020, the Louisiana Supreme Court issued several orders regarding court closures and suspension of legal deadlines. As the Louisiana Supreme Court is the highest state court in Louisiana with jurisdiction over all lower courts, the district and appellate courts have generally issued orders tracking the orders issued by the Supreme Court.
On April 6, 2020, after Governor Edwards extended the stay-at-home order and suspension of legal deadlines until at least April 30, 2020, the Louisiana Supreme Court issued another order repealing and replacing its prior orders. The Court’s April 6, 2020 Order provides in pertinent part:
- All jury trials scheduled to commence in any Louisiana state court between the date of this Order and May 1, 2020, are continued to a date to be reset by local order no earlier than May 4, 2020.
- Until at least May 4, 2020, courts may only conduct in-person proceedings to address emergency matters that cannot be resolved virtually.
- In civil matters, the following matters are deemed emergency matters: civil protective orders, child in need of care proceedings, emergency child custody matters, proceedings for children removed from their home by emergency court order, proceedings related to emergency interdictions and mental health orders, temporary restraining orders and injunctions, and matters of public health related to this crisis and other emergency matters necessary to protect the health, safety and liberty of individuals as determined by each court.
The Louisiana Supreme Court orders can be found on its website at lasc.org, which also provides useful links to similar orders issued by the other courts of this state.
Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
The Louisiana Fifth Circuit courthouse building located in Gretna, Louisiana is closed until April 30, 2020. All deadlines are suspended until at least Thursday, April 30, 2020. Oral arguments are also suspended.
On April 13, 2020, the Court issued a press release regarding a successful test of mock oral argument that took place via videoconference and involved students at Faulkner University’s Thomas Goode Jones School of Law. The press release states that the technology will be utilized again for oral arguments scheduled on May 5, 6, and 7. It appears that counsel with oral argument scheduled in the Fifth Circuit in May (and perhaps beyond) should be prepared to present argument via videoconference. Former Loyola Law Professor Adam Lamparello recently provided some helpful tips on the Appellate Advocacy Blog for presenting effective online oral argument (https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/appellate_advocacy/2020/04/tips-for-giving-an-effective-and-persuasive-online-oral-argument.html).
24th Judicial District Court (Jefferson Parish)
The period of closure for the 24th Judicial District Court is extended until 8:00 am on Monday, May 4, 2020. Those with civil matters set during the closure are ordered to contact the division clerk for further instructions on or after May 4, 2020. The court is accepting e-filings and conducting certain hearings by videoconference but primarily for criminal matters.
Any and all preliminary or permanent injunctions, protective orders, temporary restraining orders, ex parte protective orders, and/or criminal stay away orders issued by the court and which would expire on or between March 13, 2020 and April 30, 2020 are extended until at least 4:30 p.m. on June 1, 2020.
Civil District Court (Orleans Parish)
On April 7, 2020, Civil District Court (“CDC”) issued its Fourth Amended Order regarding court closure and suspension of deadlines. Among other things, this order extends the period of closure for CDC until 8:00 a.m. on Monday, May 4, 2020.
In addition, any and all preliminary or permanent injunctions, protective orders, temporary restraining orders, and ex parte protective orders issued by the court and which will expire on or between March 13, 2020 and April 30, 2020 are extended until at least 4:30 p.m. on May 8, 2020 unless modified or recalled by the court.
The order also provides that:
- CDC shall handle all emergency succession matters; and
- All evictions are stayed in CDC until May 4, 2020 or when the Governor lifts the “stay at home order.”
19th Judicial District Court (East Baton Rouge)
The 19th JDC is closed until 8:00 a.m. on Friday May 1, 2020. Electronic filings and fax filings will continue to be accepted. Those will pending civil matters set during the closure period will be notified of a new court date. Emergency and time-sensitive matters as determined by the court may be held by teleconference or videoconference.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
The Eastern District has issued COVID-19 General Order No. 20-2, which order:
- Continues all civil bench and jury trials until May 1, 2020, to a date to be reset by each presiding judge, but does not continue any other pending deadlines;
- Continues all civil in-person hearings, proceedings, and conferences until May 1, 2020, to be reset by each presiding judge.
To give litigants who have not yet obtained a new trial date an idea of when their continued trial could occur, in late March our office was provided dates in late August and early September 2020 for a jury trial scheduled to begin April 20, 2020 and continued by order of the court.
Additionally, until May 1, 2020, the Clerk’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana will not accept sealed documents on paper for filing. The court’s order provides specific rules for filing documents under seal during this time period.
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana
The Middle District has now issued five orders addressing the COVID-19 outbreak. As amended, the orders provide for the following:
- All civil trials (bench and jury) are postponed to a date to be determined by the presiding Judge, on or after May 1, 2020.
- All civil evidentiary hearings and other in-court hearings and proceedings requiring personal appearances set between March 13, 2020 and April 30, 2020 are hereby postponed, to be reset by, and at the discretion of, the presiding Judge.
- Prescriptive, peremptive and statute of limitation deadlines are hereby suspended until April 30, 2020.
U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
All appeals of proceedings in Louisiana federal district courts are to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Fifth Circuit website provides the following pertinent information:
- All current deadlines remain in effect;
- Requirements to file paper copies of electronically filed pleadings and documents are suspended until further notice; and
- Oral arguments set for April 27-30 are postponed.
What Does This Mean for Attorneys and Our Clients?
It is important to stay informed as to the impact the Proclamations issued by Governor Edwards and various court orders will have on legal proceedings in this state. Perhaps more than ever, many clients may desire to proceed with litigation to recover sums due to them or their business and their attorneys should be prepared to assist these clients in every way possible despite the limitations currently in place. To be sure, almost all litigation will be delayed and attorneys can expect a rush to the courthouse to reset trials and other court appearances after May 1.
Although it remains to be seen, it is likely that even after courts are open we will not see an immediate return to normal court proceeding as courts may seek or be required to limit the number of attorneys and others present in court depending on continued restrictions on gatherings.
Attorneys should also make plans to participate in upcoming hearings, court conferences, and even appellate oral arguments via videoconference. The ability to e-file documents and review court dockets online is also crucial at this time. Many courts have temporarily suspended the normal electronic access or filing fees to further assist attorneys.
GRHG will be closely following the changes to the legal landscape in Louisiana brought on by the COVID-19 crisis and our state’s response to this unprecedented challenge. We will update this post as necessary. As always, we are available to answer any questions our clients may have about their legal matters and the new laws and regulations passed in response to COVID-19.
Ryan C. Higgins