Michigan Supreme Court Response to COVID-19
In light of the limitations put in place in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan’s Supreme Court has issued a number of Orders outlining how Michigan’s trial courts will continue to operate during this unprecedented time. While various counties have also enacted their own additional measures, the Supreme Court’s mandates provide some measure of consistency regarding court operations throughout the state.
Updates and Resources
Initiating Lawsuits in Michigan During COVID-19
With respect to the initiation of lawsuits, it has been ordered that:
“For all deadlines applicable to the commencement of all civil and probate case-types, including but not limited to the deadline for the initial filing of a pleading under MCR 2.110 or a motion raising a defense or an objection to an initial pleading under MCR 2.116, and any statutory prerequisites to the filing of such a pleading or motion, any day that falls during the state of emergency declared by the Governor related to COVID-19 is not included for purposes of MCR 1.108(1).”
According to the Supreme Court, the order “is intended to extend all deadlines pertaining to case initiation and the filing of initial responsive pleadings in civil and probate matters during the state of emergency declared by the Governor related to COVID-19.” Similarly, filing deadlines for the Michigan Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court have also been suspended during the state of emergency.
Michigan Courts Remain Open for Emergency Matters
While certain deadlines have been suspended, individuals are still permitted to commence civil actions during this time and trial courts have been directed that they must establish methods for filing during this time. Courts must also remain open to address emergency matters. Emergency matters that will still be addressed by courts include, but aren’t limited to, matters pertaining to personal protection orders, emergency child custody matters, and child protective hearings. Criminal matters involving defendants in custody will also continue to be conducted remotely, while matters involving defendants not in custody will be adjourned to a later date. In-person jury trials are also suspended during this time and will be adjourned to later dates.
Coronavirus has upended nearly every fact of the Michigan legal system. Partner Stephen Sinas appeared recently on the Morning Blend to discuss how personal injury law has been impacted as well. He discusses the concerns of seeking medical treatment for newly injured people, as well as the desire for justice for those who have been dealing with the court system for many months, or possible years.
Coronavirus Pandemic, Evictions, and Landlord-Tenant Matters
Although trial courts will continue to address matters on an emergency basis, they will not address landlord-tenant matters involving evictions unless “the tenant poses a substantial risk to another person or imminent and severe risk to property.” This moratorium on evictions is consistent with the Executive Order issued by Governor Whitmer suspending evictions statewide until April 17, 2020. During this time, landlords may continue to collect rent pursuant to a lease agreement, however, a landlord may not serve a demand for payment of rent until the expiration of this Order.
Additional COVID-19 Response Measures
In addition to the measures ordered by the Supreme Court, many jurisdictions have enacted their own additional measures outlining the specific mechanics of how their courts will function in the immediate future as Michigan residents “shelter in place.” Because of this, if you have a matter that you believe needs to be addressed during this time, you should check online for the applicable district or circuit court for more information.
The week of April 20, 2020, brought several updates to court functions in Michigan, including:
- Michigan jury trials – A Michigan Supreme Court order issued on April 23, 2020, suspended all jury trials until at least June 22, 2020. In Wayne County, where coronavirus is so serious, all jury trials are suspended until August.
- Fee waivers – People of modest means can request a fee waiver for the various fees associated with litigation. Additionally, the Michigan Supreme Court said people must be able to make these requests electronically.
- Subpeanoas – Those issued subpoenas to give testimony can be issued remotely.
On May 6, 2020, the Michigan Supreme Court, in conjunction with the State Court Administrator’s Office, issued an order and a very detailed plan about how courts around the start are going to ultimately resume full capacity. Outlining a four-phase plan, courts cannot advance through the phases until the following three criteria are met:
- Cannot be any COVID-19 cases confirmed or suspected within a 14-day period;
- Has to be a downward trajectory of cases in the community within the 14-day period;
- Stay At Home Orders have to have been rescinded at the local healthcare resources cannot be at full capacity within that community.
Tom Sinas also explained a few long-term, paradigm shifts we will likely see in the Michigan court system, such as the change in the philosophy of attendance in court only when absolutely necessary. It is likely we will see a significant shift in court proceedings to remote operations for the foreseeable future.
Tom Sinas explained in an April 2021 segment of “Know the Law” that the phases used by the courts to re-open had been impacted due to the recent spike in coronavirus rates. For instance, as of April 14, 2021, the Kent County Circuit Court announced that the county courts are now back in Phase 1. Tom notes that, just like the disease, everything is impacted by the unknowns, including the challenges of operating a court system and conducting jury trials. As previously state, jury trials have different criteria for being held, due to the complicated nature of many different people needing to be in the same place at the same time. Here, the Courts are looking at health metrics. The Courts have determined that a jury trial cannot be held unless there is a seven-day average in the county of less than 70 COVID cases per million residents and less than 10% positive diagnostic tests, or there have been fewer than 20 new cases in the county for the last seven days. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. In response, in mid-April, Ingham and Eaton county courts have also announced jury trials are canceled for the time being.
If you are a current Sinas Dramis client and wondering how the current Michigan Supreme Court response to COVID-19, deadline extensions and court function limitations could impact your legal case, don’t hesitate to contact your attorney or staff member.