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March 20, 2020

COVID-19 Forces Connecticut and Massachusetts State and Federal Courts to Limit Activity

Like others across the nation, Connecticut and Massachusetts courts have enacted significant measures to limit in-person appearances and reduce courthouse traffic in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. The essential parts of the most recent guidelines are outlined below.

Connecticut Superior Court

Effective March 19: Under the terms and provisions of the judicial branch’s Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), the courts will schedule and hear only those matters identified as “Priority 1 Business Functions.”

  • With the exception of in-progress jury trials and criminal jury trials necessitated by the filing and granting of a quick trial motion, all civil and criminal jury trials are suspended.
  • One building in each of the 13 judicial districts will be designated as the location where only Priority 1 functions (as defined in the Continuity of Operations Plan) will be handled.
  • Juvenile matters will be heard in the Hartford and Bridgeport juvenile courthouses.

The following matters are considered Priority 1 Business Functions and will continue:

  • Criminal arraignments of defendants held in lieu of bond and all arraignments involving domestic violence cases
  • Juvenile detention hearings
  • Family orders of relief from abuse
  • Civil orders of relief from abuse
  • Civil protection orders
  • Ex parte motions
  • Orders of temporary custody (juvenile matters)
  • Orders to appear (juvenile matters)
  • Emergency ex parte order of temporary custody
  • Juvenile detention operations for detainees held for juvenile court
  • Termination of parental rights
  • Domestic violence victim notification
  • Civil and family capias mittimus execution and bond reviews

Connecticut Appeals Courts

  • All supreme and appellate briefing deadlines are extended by 30 days.
  • As of March 19, all oral arguments to be held in the Supreme Court before April 27 will be re-scheduled to dates to be announced. Certain priority cases will be heard either by video conference, considered without oral arguments if waived by counsel, or will be heard in a courtroom if necessary.
  • As of March 17, oral arguments will not go forward in any of the cases scheduled to be heard in the Appellate Court through the end of the sixth term, and cases have not been scheduled for the court’s seventh term, which starts April 6.

Connecticut Federal Courts

  • All in-person civil and criminal proceedings scheduled to occur on or before April 10—subject to the discretion of the assigned judge—are continued pending further order from the court, with the exception of new arrests, detention hearings, grand jury returns, and civil matters requiring a prompt hearing (injunctions and TROs).
  • For proceedings scheduled to occur on or before April 10, the court will inform the parties whether the proceeding will take place as scheduled and, if so, whether the proceeding will occur in court or via remote communication.
  • Compliance review hearings and attorney admissions ceremonies are suspended.
  • US Probation and Pretrial Services is conducting interviews with defendants via videoconference.
  • The courts remain open for all other business. The Clerk’s Office is answering phone calls, receiving mail, and keeping intake desks open during normal business hours, and electronic filings may still be made through CM or ECF.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

  • Effective March 18 and continuing until at least April 6, Massachusetts state courthouses will only hear emergency matters that cannot be resolved through videoconference or telephonic hearings.
  • Jury and bench trials in both criminal and civil cases scheduled to commence between March 18 and April 17 are continued to a date no earlier than April 21.
  • All jury trials commenced prior to March 18 will be declared mistrials.
  • All statute of limitations are tolled from March 18 through April 21. Unless otherwise ordered by the applicable court, all deadlines set forth in statutes or court rules, standing orders, or guidelines that would otherwise expire before April 21 are extended to that date.
  • All orders that were issued prior to March 18 after an adversarial hearing that are due to expire prior to April 21 will remain in effect until the matter is heard.
  • Each of the trial courts issued an order to specify what constitutes an emergency matter.
  • Trial court clerk’s offices remain open to accept pleadings and other documents in emergency matters. The offices of the Clerk of the Appeals Court and Clerks of the SJC remain open but will only accept in-person filings on emergency matters that can’t be filed electronically.

Massachusetts Appeals Court

  • All panel and single justice cases scheduled for oral argument during the remainder of March 2020 will be held by telephone. A party may elect to submit their appeal without argument by filing a letter.
  • All cases scheduled for oral arguments during April 2020 are deemed submitted on the briefs on file without any further argument unless otherwise ordered by the court.

Massachusetts Federal Courts

  • All jury trials and all trial-specific deadlines in criminal cases scheduled to begin before April 27 are continued pending further order of the court.
  • Individual judges may continue trial-specific deadlines in both civil and criminal cases in the exercise of their discretion.
  • All criminal proceedings will be held where personal liberty or public safety issues are immediately implicated. All other criminal proceedings will be continued for 60 days, subject to certain exceptions.
  • Grand jury proceedings are continued to April 27, except proceedings for emergency or essential matters.
  • Mediations and sessions of the Central Violations Bureau are continued until at least April 27.
  • Naturalization ceremonies scheduled for March and April 2020 are suspended, but individual requests for an expedited oath of citizenship will be considered.
  • Federal courthouses in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield will remain open for business. The Clerk’s Office, Massachusetts Probation Service, the US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts, and all other court services will remain open pending further order from the court.

Additional information is available on the various court websites.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Michael Caldwell, partner, at mcaldwell@barclaydamon.com; Siobhan Tolan, associate, at stolan@barclaydamon.com; or another member of the firm’s Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area.

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