Litigation in a Time of Pandemic

In recent weeks, we have received questions from clients regarding the effect of the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) on cases that are currently pending in the courts or disputes that might be headed toward litigation. The following is a brief overview of the effect of COVID-19 and the response on legal proceedings in Minnesota.

As an initial matter, all courts in the state of Minnesota (state, federal, and appellate)  remain open and are processing all case types.  Courts have utilized electronic filing and case management for years.  As a result, COVID-19 has had very little impact on a party’s ability to initiate a legal proceeding and file the necessary documents with the court. The largest impact we have seen thus far has been on court hearings and parties’ ability to participate in litigation events that have historically required in-person contact, such as depositions or settlement conferences.

In Minnesota’s state courts, all jury trials have been suspended until at least June 1, 2020, and physical access to courthouses has been restricted through the expiration of the stay-at-home order. The courts are conducting almost all hearings with remote technology, and will likely continue this practice for the foreseeable future.  That said, many hearings scheduled for March or April were postponed indefinitely or cancelled due to COVID-19.  These cancellations have and will continue to cause a backlog of hearings.  Parties should anticipate that hearing dates will be delayed as the courts are prioritizing criminal matters and civil matters that implicate civil liberties.

In Minnesota’s federal district court, jury trials have likewise been suspended through June 14, 2020, and other court proceedings may be conducted by telephone or video conference where practicable and consistent with the rules. Based on our anecdotal experience, the federal courts in Minnesota have continued operations with minimal interruption, and are not experiencing the kind of backlog currently facing the state courts.

We expect to see an increasing number of COVID-19-related disputes and litigation concerning wide-ranging topics, such as disputes over business interruption insurance, breach of contract claims based on inability to perform contractual obligations, landlord/tenant cases due to defaults under leases, employment matters, and other fallout from the economic downturn associated with COVID-19. Moreover, the almost weekly enactment of new state and federal laws and regulations will only increase the number of claims originating from COVID-19 and the response.

The challenges facing everyone involved in litigation are without precedent.  New measures are instituted daily, and best practices are continually evolving.  If you have specific questions regarding the impact of COVID-19 on current or potential litigation, ways to reduce COVID-19 liability, or claims that may have arisen because of COVID-19, please contact us.  We are open for business—safely and remotely—and would be happy to be of assistance.

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