- Jul 28, 2020
Legal Update by Attorney Tyler Smith and Law Clerk Jordan Gehlhaar
On May 22, 2020, the Iowa Supreme Court issued an order regarding the COVID-19 impact on court services. On May 26, 2020 the Iowa Judicial Branch released an updated summary of modifications to court procedures and judicial operations. Below is a summary of the Order as it relates to civil cases.
DISTRICT COURT TRIALS, HEARNGS, AND CONFERENCES:
- Civil nonjury trials are set to resume on July 13, 2020. Nonjury trials may commence in accordance with case priorities before that date in specific counties if the county courthouse is open to the public and operations meet recommended COVID-19 safety protocols. Generally, cases are prioritized by emergency matters, followed by criminal trials, then other trials. Courts shall use their judgment based on the facts and circumstances of each case. District courts may conduct civil nonjury trials via telephone or video conference with the parties’ consent.
- Civil jury trials will resume on September 14, 2020.
- The court continues to encourage attorneys, parties, and courts to conduct civil court business remotely by videoconference or telephone when feasible. Additionally, courts may use their discretion to direct any mediation to occur via telephone or video conference that was set to occur at a courthouse.
MODIFICATIONS TO IOWA RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE AND COURT RULES
- Statute of Limitations: Any statute of limitations or similar deadline for commencing an action in district court is tolled from March 17, 2020 to June 1, 2020 (76 days). The 76 days of tolling applies to actions whose deadline for commencing would otherwise expire any time from March 17, 2020 to December 31, 2020. The Order provided the following example:
[I]f the statute would otherwise run on July 7, 2020, it now runs on September 21, 2020 (76 days later). However, after December 31, 2020, any tolling will be phased out and eliminated. Thus, if the deadline for commencing the action would otherwise expire on any date from December 31, 2020 to March 16, 2021 (the 76th day of 2021), inclusive, that deadline would become March 17, 2021, and thereafter there would be no tolling at all.
- Original Notice: Parties who have original notices with a deadline for service between March 23, 2020 and July 13, 2020 are granted through July 13, 2020 to complete service.
- Rule 1.944(2) Dismissal: All cases subject to dismissal pursuant to Rule 1.944(2) if not tried before January 1, 2021, are provided a one-time, one-year automatic extension of the deadline for commencement of trial through December 31, 2021.
- Electronic Signatures: Electronic signatures on civil court documents are allowed through December 31, 2020. Attorneys are permitted to electronically sign for their client through that date, with their authorization. Notaries public are encouraged to follow Iowa Secretary of State guidelines.
APPELLATE PROCEEDINGS AND RULES
In-person oral arguments before appellate courts are to resume on July 13, 2020. They may be conducted via telephone or video conference by the court’s discretion through December 31, 2020.
- Safety Protocols: Pursuant to the Supreme Court Supervisory Order issued on May 22, the Iowa Judicial Branch released a checklist of safety protocols that must be completed for court facilities that wish to resume operation prior to July 13, 2020. All chief judges must complete the checklist for each county facility in their judicial district where court operations are conducted and submit them to the state court administrator for approval before July 13, 2020. The checklist includes social distancing for staff and patrons, adequate PPE supply, and specific signage posting, among others.
- Polk County Civil Proceedings: All civil jury and nonjury trials in Polk County are to be continued to a date no earlier than January 1, 2021, in order to accommodate the backlog of criminal and family law cases that take priority. If the court determines a hearing is necessary, the parties may appear via telephone or videoconference. View the June 4, 2020 administrative order from the Fifth Judicial District of Iowa here.
UPDATE ON RESUMPTION OF JURY TRIALS
On July 22, 2020, the Iowa Supreme Court, guided by the Jumpstart Jury Trials Task Force, released an order regarding resumption of jury trials during COVID-19.
- Jury Summonsing and Check-In: Courts should increase the number of jurors summoned, and send summons further in advance. Operating in alternative facilities with larger spaces should be considered. Questions related to COVID-19 shall be added to the juror qualification process. Deferrals to a later date may be granted to anyone who is experiencing symptoms, is high-risk or cares for someone who is high-risk, or is a medical professional treating COVID-19 patients. Courts should consider staggering arrival times, changing the court schedule to avoid lunch breaks, distancing six feet between jurors or using plexiglass dividers.
- Jury Selection and Trial: With consent of the parties, courts should consider virtual voir dire, or conduct in smaller jury panels if in person. Transparent face shields shall be provided to anyone who may be speaking. Courts shall exercise control over time spent on voir dire, opening statements and closing statements to expedite jury selection and trials. Sidebar conferences are encouraged to occur outside the courtroom or via instant messaging.
- Deliberations: Jurors should be appropriately distanced and wear transparent face shields. Courts should ensure proper sight lines and sound amplification prior to trials. Courts shall provide access to exhibits and shall adopt procedures to sanitize.
View the Iowa Judicial Branch’s COVID-19 website here.
Peddicord Wharton will continue to monitor the ongoing circumstances and update as necessary.
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