State District Courts and Appellate Courts
By Executive Order No. 20-56, Governor Tim Walz allowed the stay-at-home directive announced in Executive Order No. 20-48 to expire effective May 18, 2020. The Judicial Branch is exempt from continued limits on gatherings imposed by Executive Order No. 20-56, subject to policies established by the chief justice and as directed by court order. Exec. Order No. 20-56, at ¶ 6(c)(ii).
On May 15, 2020, Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea issued an order directing judges and court staff to begin implementing the transitional case strategies plan approved by the Judicial Council for proceedings in district courts effective May 18, 2020. (See Order Governing the Operations of the Minnesota Judicial Branch under Emergency Executive Order Nos. 20-53, 20-56 (May 15, 2020.)) The approved strategies provide “a planned, methodical, and gradual approach to extending the number and type of in-person proceedings held in court facilities.” (Id.)
With respect to civil cases, the May 15 Order and transitional case strategies plan provide as follows:
- Jury Trials: No jury trials shall be held in civil cases before September 1, 2020. A pilot program has been established to evaluate processes for jury trials in criminal cases beginning June 1, 2020, which will inform how future civil jury trials are conducted.
- Court Trials and Evidentiary Hearings: Following expiration of the Governor’s stay-at-home order, courts may begin conducting remote video conference civil court trials and evidentiary hearings with agreement of the parties. The court will consider whether remote participation is appropriate for a court trial or evidentiary hearing on a case-by-case basis.
- Other Proceedings: Except for actions that present an immediate liberty concern, or when public or personal safety concerns are paramount, courts will continue to conduct hearings in civil cases remotely. Remote hearings can be held via multiple types of technology, including but not limited to Interactive Video Teleconference (ITV), video conference vial WebEx, Virtual Meeting Room (VMR), Zoom or telephone. Courts may implement late afternoon/evening remote calendars to address civil backlogs. Some district courts have imposed additional conditions on remote oral arguments, including agreement by all participants to appear remotely, to oral argument being off the record, and to payment of a certified court reporter. All proceedings and hearings remain subject to the Judicial Branch’s rules that limit or prohibit recordings of hearings. The only recording permitted is the official recording created by the court. In-person civil case hearings will generally be prioritized for courtroom availability lower than criminal and CHIPS cases.
- Civil Motions: Courts may suspend oral arguments on special term motions and decide motions upon the written submissions of the parties, to the extent feasible, practicable, and in the interests of justice.
- Scheduling Orders: While scheduling is generally left to the discretion of individual judges, some courts have issued additional guidance indicating that the court will “liberally entertain” requests to extend scheduling orders, briefing deadlines or scheduling, based on individual circumstances and constraints resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. (See, e.g., Hennepin County District Court (Presiding Judge Laurie Miller) March 24, 2020 Memo re: Partial suspension of Civil Division Court operations due to COVID-19.)
- Filings: Courts will continue to accept filings in all case types, either electronically or as otherwise provided in court orders. Parties and the public will not be permitted access to the court facility to submit documents for filing. Court staff shall continue to process cases and case filings as required by judicial branch policies.
- Appeals: Proceedings in appeals pending before the Minnesota Supreme Court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals shall continue as scheduled by those courts. The appellate courts have implemented procedures to allow hearings to be conducted remotely and may determine for any case that oral argument is unnecessary in light of the issues presented. The appellate courts are authorized to grant reasonable extensions of the deadlines established by court rule to initiate an appeal or a request for review, up to a maximum of 30 days.
Access to court facilities will be allowed consistent with the Judicial Branch’s Preparedness Plan, and subject to conditions imposed by government entities that own the buildings that house court facilities. Such conditions include wearing face masks, restricting access to persons having essential business with the court, and observing social distancing protocols. (See, e.g. Hennepin County District Court Administrative Orders, dated May 18 and May 20, 2020.)
Federal District Court (D. Minn.)
Under a series of General Orders re: Court Operations Under the Exigent Circumstances Created by COVID-19, the Chief Judge for the U.S. District Court of the District of Minnesota has implemented measures intended to protect court personnel, the bar, and the public, and slow the spread of COVlD-19, as follows:
- Jury Trials: All civil jury trials in the District of Minnesota are continued through July 5, 2020. (General Order No. 14.) All civil trial-specific deadlines are similarly continued through July 5, 2020. (Id.)
- Other Proceedings: Judges may conduct court proceedings by telephone or video conferencing where practicable and consistent with law. (General Order No. 1.) All civil hearings that cannot be conduced using videoconference or telephone conference are continued through July 5, 2020. (General Order No. 14.)
- Filings: The Clerk’s Office intake desks remain closed to the public. (General Order No. 14.) The Clerk’s Office will continue to accept electronic filing in civil cases through CM/ECF and through the U.S. Mail. (General Order No. 4.) Handling of all mail will be centralized at the Minneapolis courthouse, and all mail to the District Court should be directed to the Minneapolis courthouse. (Id.) The requirement that the filing party must provide physical courtesy copies to the judge hearing the motion, as required in Section I.E. of the Civil and Criminal ECF Guides, is suspended until further order of the court. (General Order Nos. 3 and 4.)
The federal court has also issued Administrative Orders establishing Entrance Protocols restricting access to Courthouses. (See In Re: Entrance Protocol.)
The Continuity of Operations (COOP) Plan for the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota is activated, effective March 23, 2020, and continues through and including July 5, 2020. (General Order No. 14.)
Minnesota Emergency Executive Orders, directing Minnesotans to stay at home, do not limit, prohibit, or restrict in any way the operations of the federal government, or the movement of federal officials in Minnesota while acting in their official capacity, including federal judicial staff and personnel. (General Orders Nos. 4 – 14.)