On March 13, 2020, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued an order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic suspending in-person court proceedings. That order was extended by a second order dated March 25, 2020. The order covers proceedings in all courts of this state including city courts, juvenile courts, general sessions courts, circuit and chancery courts, criminal courts and all appellate courts and covers the period of March 13, 2020 through April 30, 2020. The order goes on to encourage judges and court clerks to utilize technology such as teleconferencing, email, and video conferencing.
The offices of the court clerks will remain open for filing during this period, but the clerks are to limit in-person contact as much as possible. If it becomes necessary to close a judge’s office or the office of a court clerk, such office must remain accessible by telephone or email during regular business hours.
Statutes of limitations that would expire between March 13, 2020 and May 5, 2020 are extended through May 6, 2020. Also, if there are any deadlines in court rules, statutes, ordinances, admin-istrative rules, or otherwise that are set to expire between March 13 and May 5, 2020 are extended through May 6, 2020.
There are situations where in-person court proceedings must take place. Any matter involving the constitutional rights of one or more of the litigants are allowed to proceed. The presiding judge in the judicial district is charged with the responsibility of determining how such cases will be handled, and any such case must be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, and other necessary persons. The following cases can still proceed under the order:
Bond hearing and plea agreements for people in jail
The issuance of ex partѐ orders of protection
Hearings on ex partѐ orders of protection as necessary to satisfy any due process concerns
Emergency child custody orders
Voluntary surrender of parental rights
Minor settlements and settlements involving persons under a disability
Department of Children's Services matters related to child protection
Temporary injunction matters
Emergency mental health orders
Emergency proceedings for the protection of the elderly and disabled
Proceedings related to the COVID-19 public health emergency
Other matters approved by the Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court
Of note are the numerous orders of protection set to expire during this period. All such orders of protection, unless ex partѐ orders, will be extended through May 6, 2020.
Patience is necessary during this time. We must all take steps to avoid unnecessary contact that might put ourselves and others at risk. The Tennessee Supreme Court has taken this unprecedented step to stem the spread of the corona virus. This time will pass, and things will soon return to normal.