Supreme Court of North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley issued an Order today under N.C.G.S. § 7A-39(b) that provides litigants and their attorneys some relief from deadlines for filings and other acts in light of the need to minimize travel to and entry into the state’s courthouses due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The full text of the Order can be found HERE.
The substance of the order is as follows:
I order that all pleadings, motions, notices, and other documents and papers
that were or are due to be filed in any county of this state on or after 16 March 2020
and before the close of business on 17 April 2020 in civil actions, criminal actions,
estates, and special proceedings shall be deemed to be timely filed if they are filed
before the close of business on 17 April 2020.
I further order that all other acts that were or are due to be done in any county
of this state on or after 16 March 2020 and before the close of business on
17 April 2020 in civil actions, criminal actions, estates, and special proceedings shall
be deemed to be timely done if they are done before the close of business on
17 April 2020.
While one might initially assume that this Order would toll deadlines in North Carolina Business Court cases, a close look at the plain language of the Order renders such an assumption questionable and potentially dangerous. The extension applies to things “due to be filed in any county” and “due to be done in any county.” Although many business court filings must be filed not only in the NCBC, but also in the clerk’s office where the case originated, and therefore would be covered by this Order, what about filings in business court cases that wouldn’t also be filed in the home county, like a brief that is due next week in response to a motion that is pending? The submission of that response brief is not a filing nor an act that must be done in any county; the brief simply must be submitted through the NCBC electronic filing system. So is the deadline for that submission tolled by Chief Justice Beasley’s Order? I don’t think I can confidently say that it is, and as one of my colleagues here just noted, filing deadlines are one area in which it is not “better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” In all of my currently pending NCBC cases, the Court already communicated by email to all counsel in the case after Chief Justice Beasley’s March 13 Order (which continued many matters for 30 days), and encouraged the lawyers to reach out with any questions in light of these unique and trying circumstances. If I were facing the issue above, I would probably take the Court up on that offer and seek confirmation of deadlines. Meanwhile, if you have any clarity on this issue, please share in the comments below, and if we gather any further insight on this topic, we will update the blog accordingly.
And while there might be uncertainty as to the scope of this Order in the North Carolina Business Court, there is less uncertainty as to its application to the state’s appellate courts. The Order specifically states
This order does not apply to documents and papers due to be filed or acts due
to be done in the appellate courts.
For what that exclusion means for the filing of notices of appeal, arguably the most important filing in an appeal, see Beth Scherer’s post with appellate court updates here. (As NOAs are filed in the trial court, the Order presumably does apply to them.)