On April 6, 2020, the California Judicial Council held its second emergency meeting to address issues arising in the California court system as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Judicial Council, led by Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court Tani Cantil-Sakauye, is the rulemaking body of the California court system. California’s Government Code section 68070 authorizes the Judicial Council to adopt rules “to provide for uniformity” including, but not limited to, “rules relating to law and motion.”
The Judicial Council passed 11 emergency rules, two of which pertain to statutes of limitations and may affect potential and pending employment litigation. Emergency rule 9 tolls the statute of limitations for all civil causes of action, beginning on April 6, 2020 and ending 90 days after the governor declares the statewide state of emergency related to COVID-19 is lifted. Emergency rule 10 extends the time in which a case must be brought to trial from five years to five years and six months. This extension applies to all civil cases filed before April 6, 2020.
California Government Code section 68115, in relevant part, authorizes the chairperson of the Judicial Council to “[d]eclare that a date or dates on which an emergency condition . . . substantially interfered with the public’s ability to file papers in a court facility or facilities be deemed a holiday for purposes of computing the time for filing papers with the court under Sections 12 and 12a of the Code of Civil Procedure.” Sections 12 and 12a of the California Code of Civil Procedure apply to statutes of limitation generally. Further, section 68115 authorizes the chairperson to “[e]xtend the time periods . . . to bring an action to trial.”
From an employment law standpoint, these extensions mean that current or former employees have additional time to bring suit against their employer. Employers who know of potential claims that are nearing the statute of limitations should be aware that employees now have additional time to bring such claims. Likewise, employers should expect an increase in lawsuits once any shelter-in-place orders are lifted.
California is not the only state to have adopted such tolling provisions. New York, Iowa, Tennessee, and Kansas have all addressed the issue of statutes of limitations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and some federal District Courts have done likewise. We anticipate other states will address the issue as this pandemic progresses and court schedules are further disrupted.
Employers who would like to learn more or discuss the implications of these rules on their business should reach out to a Reed Smith Labor and Employment attorney.