Alexandra “Allie” E. Humphreys
On March 16, 2020, the Supreme Court of Virginia declared a judicial emergency and entered an order placing number of restrictions on courts throughout the Commonwealth. With regard to civil litigation, importantly, the order provides that Virginia Circuit and District courts will suspend all non-emergency matters, which includes the vast majority of civil trials and hearings. All deadlines, filing requirements, and statutes of limitations that would run while the Order is in effect are extended for the duration of the order. The order does permit certain out of court aspects of civil cases to continue, including, specifically, depositions (with the parties’ consent).
Locally, the Office of the Clerk of Rockingham County Circuit Court is closed to the public, but remains operational for essential functions and is continuing to accept and file pleadings. A March 17, 2020 Memorandum from the Rockingham County Circuit Court Judges suggests civil praecipes be filed no earlier than May. The Office of the Clerk for the Augusta County Circuit Court is requesting that visitors make appointments for accessing certain services offered by the Clerk’s Office and, pursuant to a March 13, 2020 order of Judge W. Chapman Goodwin, bailiffs will be screening entry to the Courthouse by asking questions related to illness and recent travel.
The initial Supreme Court order stated its restrictions would remain in place through April 6, 2020, but left open the possibility for extension. The Supreme Court’s order has already been extended once and is currently in effect through April 26, 2020. However, given the current stay- at-home order in Virginia (Executive Order Number Fifty-Five), which lasts through June 10, 2020, it is highly likely the Supreme Court’s Order will be further extended. Since the orders of the Supreme Court and local court directives and orders will likely be modified from the date of this publication, it is critical for litigants and litigators alike to remain up to date on the latest court restrictions and related measures.
While some aspects of civil cases will certainly slow down while the order is in effect, most civil cases will continue their forward progression out of court. Drafting briefs and motions, conducting discovery, gathering and reviewing documents, and collaborating with outside experts are essential elements of civil litigation that can be performed in their entirety outside of the courtroom. Accordingly, many cases, particularly those in their earlier stages, will continue their forward trajectory during this time.