As people, businesses, and markets scramble to navigate through the impact of COVID-19, nearly every state has issued emergency orders, detailing changes to court operations due to the COVID-19 outbreak. To date, the Texas Supreme Court, in conjunction with the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Office of Court Administration, has issued eight orders responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perhaps the most controversial order was Emergency Order 1, issued March 13, 2020. According to that order: “All courts in Texas may extend the statute of limitations in any civil case for a stated period ending no later than 30 days after the governor’s state of disaster has been lifted.” The use of the word “may” gave each Texas court—in each of Texas’ 254 counties—the discretion to toll (or not toll) the statute of limitations during the pandemic. As one can imagine, such a rule could have resulted in different courts (in different counties or in the same county) observing different statutes of limitations.
Perceiving this as a serious problem, a coalition of bar associations and plaintiff and defense attorney associations sent a letter to the Texas Supreme Court, on March 27, 2020, requesting that the Court issue one limitations rule for the entire State of Texas. In the letter, the coalition proposed two solutions:
- Any specific time limit for the commencement, filing, or service of any civil legal action shall be tolled statewide from the Court’s March 13, 2020, Emergency Order 1 until 75 days after the governor lifts his state of disaster order; or
- If a lawsuit faced a deadline that falls between March 1, 2020, and 30 days after the state of disaster order is lifted, then that deadline shall be tolled until 75 days after the governor lifts his state of disaster order.
Within five days, the high court responded in Emergency Order 8, which includes the following change: “Any deadline for the filing or service of any civil case is tolled from March 13, 2020, until June 1, 2020, unless extended by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.” The order does not affect deadlines for filing appeals or other appellate proceedings, but the order notes that requests for any such relief from those deadlines should be generously granted by the particular court.
Although Emergency Order 8 did not adopt, in whole, either of the coalition’s proposals, the order does accomplish the coalition’s overarching goal—the order sets one limitations rule for the entire State of Texas. Now, companies and individuals can better determine when they must file a lawsuit or whether the time limit for filing anticipated litigation has expired.
However, the length and scope of the statute-of-limitations extension may change based on how long the pandemic lasts. If you need assistance with this or any other Emergency Order, or if you have any other COVID-19 related questions, please contact a member of the KRCL CARES Task Force. The Task Force is in place to assist you as COVID-19 developments arise.