In my blog last week, I noted how quickly developments concerning the operations of New York courts have been occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, I concluded by noting that, on May 18, 2020, several upstate court houses would open and operate under strict safety precautions.
Just days later, downstate attorneys and litigants received they news they have been waiting for: beginning on May 25, 2020, by administrative order of the Chief Administrative Judge, courts in the New York Metropolitan area (including Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties) will permit the commencement of new non-essential cases by electronic filing only. Although court houses in the region remain closed, this is an important step towards the resumption of the judicial system’s normal operations.
It is important that the new guidelines are understood by all interested stakeholders. For all downstate court houses still shuttered by the virus, all new case filings by parties who are represented by counsel must be made through the court’s electronic filing system, or “ECF” as it is known to practitioners. If a party is unrepresented (i.e., pro se) they can opt to file, serve and be served with papers through non-electronic means. By making this alternative permissive rather than mandatory, it appears pro se litigants or parties that have not yet retained counsel can register to file and receive papers through ECF.
Despite this move towards digitizing litigation, it remains the case that a defendant must be served with a summons and complaint through personal service within 120 days of the electronic filing of the new matter. However, the defendant’s attorney may agree to accept service, by electronic means or otherwise, on behalf of his or her client.
For matters that are already pending and were not considered e-filing cases prior to the pandemic, the rules set out in my previous blog still stand. Specifically, both parties must file through the court’s electronic delivery system (EDDS) a consent to utilize the ECF system in order for the case to be converted to an e-filing case.
It is clearly possible, if not likely, that additional changes will be forthcoming. We will continue to keep our clients and colleagues apprised of developments in real-time.
If you have any questions about the commencement of a new matter or the impact of these changes on a pending matter, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.