State District Courts and Appellate Courts
The Minnesota Judicial Branch is exempt from limits on gatherings imposed by Governor Tim Walz’s Executive Orders, but continues to be subject to COVID restrictions established by the chief justice and court order. See Exec. Order No. 20-56, at ¶ 6(c)(ii); Emergency Exec. Order No. 20-99, at 7 (Nov. 18, 2020).
On May 15, 2020, in conjunction with expiration of the Governor’s original stay-at-home order, 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. (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 jury trials, the May 15 Order and transition plan established a pilot program to evaluate processes for jury trials in criminal cases beginning June 1, 2020, which would inform how civil jury trials are conducted. Civil jury trials were allowed to commence after September 1, 2020, subject to the discretion of the individual judges.
In-person civil jury trials did occur during the Fall on a limited basis in some districts. However, on November 20, 2020, in response to the surge in reported infections in the state, Chief Justice Gildea once again suspended new criminal and civil jury trials effective November 30, 2021 for a period of 60 days, through January 31, 2021. Jury trials already in progress are allowed to proceed to completion. (See Order Governing the Continuing Operations of the Minnesota Judicial Branch, filed Nov. 20, 2020.)
Under the November 20 Order, effective November 30, 2020, all other proceedings in the district court shall be conducted remotely unless the chief judge of the district in which the proceeding is to be held, after consultation with the Chief Justice, grants an exception for an in-person proceeding. (Id.)
The Nov. 20 Order continues other aspects of the May 15 Order, as follows:
Court Trials and Evidentiary Hearings: Courts may conduct remote video conference civil court trials and evidentiary hearings with agreement of the parties. The presiding judge will consider whether remote participation is appropriate for a court trial or evidentiary hearing on a case-by-case basis.
Format of Remote Proceedings: 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.
Civil Motions: Courts may suspend oral arguments 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 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 were further 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. (May 15 Order). This authority was rescinded effective January 1, 2021, in the Court’s November 20 Order. (See Nov. 20 Order, at ¶ 5.)
Access to court facilities is 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 and by the Chief Justice’s Orders dated May 28, 2020 and July 7, 2020. (See also Hennepin County District Court Administrative Orders, dated May 18 and May 20, 2020.) Such conditions include wearing face masks, restricting access to persons having essential business with the court, and observing social distancing protocols.
The Chief Justice’s November 20 Order continues these exposure control measures.
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: The court resumed limited civil jury trials in September and October 2020, following courtroom protocols developed to ensure the health and safety of all participants. (General Order No. 20.) However, due to high infection rates across the state, in early November, the court issued an order continuing all civil jury trials and all civil trial-specific deadlines in the district through December 31, 2020, unless otherwise ordered by the presiding judge. (General Order No. 21.) That suspension was subsequently extended to January 31, 2021. (General Order No. 22.)
Other Proceedings: The court continues to strongly encourage the use of videoconferencing for civil hearings, bench trials, and other proceedings. (General Order No. 18.) If the presiding judge determines that a civil proceeding must take place in-person, such a proceeding may only take place when proper social distancing can be maintained for all courtroom participants and when masks are worn when social distancing cannot be maintained. (Id.)
Filings: The Clerk’s Office intake desk will remain open to the public. (General Order No. 18.) The Clerk’s Office will continue to accept electronic filing in civil cases through CM/ECF and through the U.S. Mail. (Id..) 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 the Civil and Criminal ECF Guides, is suspended until further order of the court. (Id.)
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 December 31, 2020. (General Order No. 18.)
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. 18 – 21.)
This alert is for informational purposes only. If you have questions regarding how COVID-related restrictions impact your specific case, please contact a Larson • King attorney.