IN THE SUPREME COURT OF TENNESSEE
IN RE: COVID-19 PANDEMIC
ORDER SUSPENDING IN-PERSON COURT PROCEEDINGS
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court hereby declares a state of emergency for the Judicial Branch of Tennessee government and activates the following Continuity of Operations Plan for the courts of Tennessee. See Tenn. Const. Art. VI, § 1; Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 16-3-501 to 16-3-504 (2009); Moore-Pennoyer v. State, 515 S.W.3d 271, 276-77 (Tenn. 2017); Tenn. Sup. Ct. R.
- First and foremost, the local and state courts of the State of Tennessee are open and will remain open under all circumstances, subject to the provisions of this order.
Under the constitutional, statutory, and inherent authority of the Tennessee Supreme Court, we adopt the following provisions. All in-person proceedings in all state and local courts in Tennessee, including but not limited to municipal, juvenile, general sessions, trial, and appellate courts, are suspended from the close of business on Friday, March 13, 2020 through Tuesday, March 31, 2020, subject to the exceptions below.
Exceptions to this suspension of in-person court proceedings include, but are not limited to:
- Proceedings necessary to protect constitutional rights of criminal defendants, including bond-related matters and plea agreements for incarcerated individuals
- Civil and criminal jury trials that are in progress as of March 13, 2020
- Proceedings related to relief from abuse, including but not limited to orders of protection
- Proceedings related to emergency child custody orders
- Department of Children’s Services emergency matters related to child protection
- Proceedings related to petitions for temporary injunctive relief
- Proceedings related to emergency mental health orders
- Proceedings related to emergency protection of elderly or vulnerable persons
- Proceedings directly related to the COVID-19 public health emergency
- Other exceptions as approved by the Chief Justice
The presiding judge or the designee of the presiding judge of each judicial district is authorized to determine the manner in which in-person court proceedings for the exceptions listed above are to be conducted. Other exceptions to the suspension of in-person court proceedings must be approved by the Chief Justice. Any permitted in-court proceedings shall be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, and other necessary persons, as determined by the trial judge.
Judges are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that core constitutional functions and rights are protected. Additionally, court clerks are charged with ensuring that court functions continue. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 18-1-101 (2009); 18-1-105 (Supp. 2019). Nevertheless, all judges and court clerks are urged to limit in-person courtroom contact as much as possible by utilizing available technologies, including alternative means of filing, teleconferencing, email, and video conferencing. Any Tennessee state or local rule, criminal or civil, that impedes a judge’s or court clerk’s ability to utilize available technologies to limit in-person contact is suspended until March 31, 2020. See, e.g., Tenn. R. Civ. P. 43.01.
If it becomes necessary to close judges’ offices or court clerks’ offices during the period of suspension, these offices shall remain accessible by telephone and email to the extent possible during their regular business hours. If available, drop boxes should be used for conventionally filed documents.
This order expressly does not prohibit court proceedings by telephone, video, teleconferencing, email, or other means that do not involve in-person contact. This order does not affect courts’ consideration of matters that can be resolved without in-person proceedings.
Deadlines set forth in court rules, statutes, ordinances, administrative rules, or otherwise that are set to expire between March 13 and March 31, 2020 are hereby extended through April 6, 2020. Statutes of limitations and statutes of repose that would otherwise expire during the period between March 13 and April 6, 2020 are hereby extended through April 6, 2020. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-116 (2017). Deadlines, statutes of limitations, and statutes of repose that are not set to expire between March 13 and April 6, 2020 are not extended or tolled by this order.
Orders of protection and temporary injunctions that would otherwise expire between March 13 and March 31, 2020 are hereby extended until April 6, 2020.
This order applies statewide to all courts and court clerks’ offices except administrative courts within the Executive Branch and federal courts and federal court clerks’ offices located in Tennessee.
Under the terms of this order, the courts of Tennessee remain open, consistent with the Judicial Branch’s obligation to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19.
This order is intended to be interpreted broadly for protection of the public from risks associated with COVID-19.
It is so ORDERED.