Update on Court Closures and Delays in Our Region


March 20, 2020 - 2:57 PM
The COVID-19 crisis has brought both personal and professional cancellations and closures nationwide. Courts throughout the MidAtlantic Region are no exception. Below are the latest court status orders for federal and state courts in our service area.

THIRD CIRCUIT FEDERAL COURTS

All courts within the Third United States Judicial Circuit are open and operational, despite a curtailment of certain court functions and the closure of several court facilities.

That was the message today from Chief Third Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith as he took stock of the operation of all federal courts located within Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the U.S. Virgin Islands that are coping with the challenges posed to the administration of justice by the spread of the coronavirus.

While all of our judges and court employees recognize the seriousness that attaches to the declaration of a national emergency, Chief Judge Smith observed, the Third Circuit is not in the midst of a judicial emergency. Smith has been conferring with Chief District Judges on a daily basis, and he has commended all of them on their fortitude and the sound judgment they have exercised to assure both the safety of the public and court employees and the uninterrupted application of the rule of law.

The Chief of the Third Circuit, along with the Circuit Executive, released the following summary of circuit-wide operations as of today:

Third Circuit Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals is open for business. Oral arguments will go forward as scheduled. Parties may request to appear by audio-conference by filing a motion. If a panel determines that arguments should be presented telephonically, the Clerks Office will provide counsel with audio-conference instructions. Recordings of oral arguments will be made available on the Court's website within 24 hours after arguments conclude. The Clerk's Office will be open but minimally staffed. The majority of staff are working remotely and will return phone calls. During this time, the requirement to file hard copies of filings is deferred. Parties may request extensions of time either by motion or by calling the Clerk's office at 215-597-2995 and selecting the case management team. The Court is prepared to handle emergencies. If a party has an emergent matter, you are requested to call the Clerk's Office at 267-299-4904.

District of Delaware
The District of Delaware is open. Court operations and physical access have been limited in light of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) – the physical courthouse is closed. There are several Standing Orders in effect reflecting these and other operational changes. The Standing Orders are posted on the District of Delaware's website. The website is updated regularly to reflect any changes.

Western District of Pennsylvania
District Court and Bankruptcy Court are open during normal business hours. Those courts continue to conduct necessary judicial business, accept electronic and paper filings, and respond to public inquiries. Civil and criminal jury selections and trials continued until April 27, 2020. Non-case related activities in all court facilities have been rescheduled. Grand Jury operations are suspended until April 6, 2020. District Court and Bankruptcy Court are operating with only essential staff in their courthouses with most staff teleworking. Initial criminal proceedings are being conducted by video from detention centers where possible. Most District Court hearings and all Bankruptcy Court hearings are being conducted telephonically.

Middle District of Pennsylvania
The Harrisburg Courthouse has been closed until further notice as a result of a positive COVID-19 test of a resident law enforcement agent stationed in the building. All court proceedings will be transferred to either the Williamsport or Scranton Courthouses. Otherwise, all locations are operating with skeleton staffs, and all hearings are done by either video or telephone with few exceptions. All operational tasks are done to minimize as much as possible exposure to others. The websites of the District and Bankruptcy Courts, as well as the Probation Office, are being continually updated regarding operational issues, instructions, and procedural changes.

Eastern District of Pennsylvania
The District continues to be open and operational, but with limited essential services. The Easton location has been closed because a Court employee had contact with a person who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. Courthouses in Philadelphia and Allentown and the Reading location remain open with restricted public access. All civil and criminal jury trials, as well as grand jury proceedings, arbitration hearings, attorney admission ceremonies, naturalization ceremonies, and Central Violations Bureau hearings, have been continued until April 13, 2020. A number of Standing Orders are in effect reflecting these and other operational changes. The Standing Orders are posted on the District Courts website, and the website is updated regularly to reflect any new developments. Bankruptcy Court in Reading and Philadelphia continues to be open and operational, but with limited essential services. All scheduled hearings are telephonic, and certain routine deadlines have been extended by 60 days.

District of New Jersey
The District of New Jersey has four courthouses: two located in Newark, and one each in Trenton and Camden. The District has implemented the following procedures in response to COVID-19: District Court: 90% of Court staff is teleworking. All civil and criminal jury selections and jury trials scheduled to begin before April 30, 2020, are continued, pending further Order of the Court. Each Clerks Office is minimally staffed with supervision. In-person filings are limited to the dropbox in each courthouse with exceptions for emergent matters. Judges are conducting pretrial/settlement conferences via video and teleconferencing. Detainees in new arrests are appearing in person or via video, subject to place of confinement. The Court website is constantly updated. I.T. staff is working in-person at each courthouse. Daily telephonic debriefings are being held among all court units/departments. Bankruptcy Court: A General Order has been posted addressing hearings, appearances, etc. Most staff is teleworking with minimum staff on site. Probation/Pretrial: Minimum staffing for each courthouse/office with others teleworking.

District of  the Virgin Islands
The District Court of the Virgin Islands remains open. The Court precludes access to the Almeric L. Christian Federal Building and Courthouse on St. Croix and the Ron de Lugo Federal Building and Courthouse on St. Thomas to "individuals who have been asked to self-quarantine because of exposure to COVID-19 or travel to a country or region with the outbreak; persons who reside with or have had close contact with someone who has been advised to self-quarantine by any doctor, hospital, or health agency; persons who have been diagnosed with, or have had known contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19; and persons experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness such as fever, severe cough, or shortness of breath". 

The Court has continued all civil and criminal trials in both Divisions from March 18, 2020 through April 16, 2020, pending further Order of the Court; suspended the convening of the grand juries and precluded the empanelment of new grand juries in both Divisions from March 18, 2020 through April 16, 2020; maintained all deadlines set by Federal or Local Rules or Court Orders, including, but not limited to, scheduling orders in all civil and criminal cases; and encouraged parties to utilize teleconference, video-conference, and other similar means that facilitate the effective accomplishment of assigned tasks without compromising the health and safety of those involved. Similarly, the Court will conduct conferences and hearings telephonically when it is practicable and efficient to do so.

STATE COURTS

Pennsylvania
March 18, 2020 - Pa Supreme Court Closes all Courts to the Public for Non-Essential Functions
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has ordered that, except for certain essential functions specified in the order, court facilities in all judicial districts in Pennsylvania shall be closed to the public through at least April 3, 2020. The order of closure also applies to the Superior Court, Commonwealth Court, Magisterial District Courts, and all minor courts in Philadelphia and Allegheny County. All evictions and ejectments are stayed and PA R.C.P. 600(c) with respect to time calculations is suspended.

Maryland
The Judiciary has issued an Administrative Order on the Statewide Closing of the Courts to the Public Due to the COVID-19 Emergency, effective March 16, 2020. The order states that:

All courts in the Maryland Judiciary, court offices, administrative offices, units of the Judiciary, and the Offices of the Clerks of the Circuit Courts shall be closed to the public on an emergency basis, effective March 16, 2020; however, Judiciary operations shall continue to the extent practicable. Maryland Judiciary personnel shall report as scheduled unless otherwise excused by their administrative head.

New Jersey
As of March 18, 2020, and until further notice, there are no in-person Superior Court proceedings (except for extremely limited emergent matters and certain ongoing trials). As many matters as possible (including case management conferences, motions, and hearings) will be handled by telephone or video conference.

Delaware
A judicial emergency is declared, to become effective March 16, 2020, at 8:00 a.m. and continuing for 30 days, subject to further review.  During the period of judicial emergency, all trial courts in the state shall have the discretion to continue trials and hearings in civil and criminal cases for a period of 30 days in order to limit the number of people gathering in public court buildings.


If you have questions, or would like additional information, please contact Lou Rizzo, Chair of Reger Rizzo & Darnall’s Insurance Practices Group,  at 215.495.6507, or via email at lrizzo@regerlaw.com.

We are working with clients to field inquiries and provide advice and guidance in a wide range of areas and industries during the COVID-19 outbreak. Please be sure to check back regularly for updated information. If you have an immediate need, please contact your attorney directly, or email us at info@regerlaw.com, and one of our dedicated attorneys will get back to you shortly.