COVID-19 has had numerous, lingering effects on our lives as litigators. One not often discussed is the effect that emergency orders issued during the spring and summer of 2020 will have on our calculation of statutes of limitations. Since the limitations period for some causes of action are many years long, we will be living with this effect of the pandemic for many years to come.
During the pandemic’s first surge, state governments throughout the country issued emergency orders that addressed not only virtual proceedings, jury trials, and access to courthouses but also court deadlines and statutes of limitation. Variously worded emergency orders tolled statutes of limitations for civil causes of action during the period in which courts were closed or operating on an emergency basis. One central difference among these orders was that some tolled only those statutes of limitation that were set to expire within particular “emergency” periods while others more broadly tolled all statutes of limitation for that period--the latter effectively adding weeks or months to the limitations period for any claim that had not become time-barred before the judicial emergency began.
For instance, on the “narrow” side, Administrative Order No. 6 of the Delaware Supreme Court provided in relevant part, at Paragraph 9:
Statutes of limitations and statutes of repose that would otherwise expire during the period between March 23, 2020 and June 13, 2020 are extended through July 1, 2020. Deadlines, statutes of limitations, and statutes of repose that are not set to expire between March 23, 2020 and June 13, 2020 are not extended or tolled by this order.
By contrast, the Maryland courts swept with a broader brush:
All statutory and rules deadlines related to the initiation of matters required to be filed in a Maryland state trial or appellate court, including statutes of limitations, [are] tolled or suspended, as applicable, effective March 16, 2020, by the number of days that the courts [are] closed to the public due to the COVID-19 emergency. . . . For the purposes of tolling of statutes of limitations and other deadlines related to the initiation of matters, in this Order, “tolled or suspended by the number of days that the courts were closed” means that the days that the offices of the clerks of court were closed to the public (from March 16, 2020 through July 20, 2020) do not count against the time remaining for the initiation of that matter.
Second Revised Administrative Order on the Emergency Tolling or Suspension of Statutes of Limitations and Statutory and Rules Deadlines (June 3, 2020, since rescinded).