NAVIGATE YOUR PRACTICE THROUGH COVID-19
Michigan Court Changes Due to COVID-19 – Updated 5/19/20

By Rachael M. Sedlacek, ICLE | 05/19/20

Michigan Supreme Court Orders

The Michigan Supreme Court has issued 15 administrative orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which are summarized below by topic.

July 2020 Bar Exam

AO 2020-15, dated May 18, 2020, details changes to the July 2020 bar exam format. The exam will now be one day (July 28) and will consist of only the essay portion. There is no MBE component. Although the exam will be administered online, the order provides for an in-person testing possibility for people receiving ADA accommodations or for people who are unable to take the exam on a computer. Applicants also have the option of transferring to the next available 2021 bar exam.

Continued Status Quo and Phased Return

AO 2020-14, dated May 6, 2020, advises trial courts to consider expanding in-person operations. Each court’s approach must havediligent regard for health and safety practices as determined in consultation with local health officials.” The approach must also be approved by SCAO, which has set guidelines for a phased return to normal operations. Under the guidelines, courts must (among other things):

  • Expand remote hearings and court business online.
  • Keep courtroom access to 10 people or less, including court staff.
  • Impose social distancing practices for court employees and visitors.
  • Limit in-person courtroom activity to essential functions that can’t be done remotely.
  • Use CDC guidance to adopt policies for cleaning and sanitation, screening employees and visitors for illness, and protecting vulnerable individuals.
  • Submit plans to expand operations to SCAO and maintain the present status quo for operations in the meantime; the guidelines provide four phases of access, and a court’s plan for each phase must be approved by SCAO before it is implemented.

Before entering any phase of expanded operations, a court must show

  • a lack of COVID-19 symptoms within the court’s facility for a 14-day period (or appropriate deep cleaning and self-quarantine if there are confirmed or suspected cases),
  • a downward trend of COVID-19 cases in the court’s community within a 14-day period, and
  • rescission of state and local orders restricting movement and appropriate heath care system capacity in the court’s community.

Courts Authorized to Collect Contact Information

AO 2020-13, dated April 29, 2020, allows courts to obtain contact information from parties and witnesses to facilitate remote hearings and case processing. Contact information, which includes mobile phone numbers and email addresses, must be collected on an SCAO-approved form and remain confidential. See MC 505. An attorney’s email address must match the email address on file with the State Bar of Michigan.

Extension of Administrative Orders

AO 2020-12, dated April 27, 2020, extends AO 2020-1, 2020-2, 2020-6, and 2020-9 (discussed below) until further order of the court.

Extension of PPOs

AO 2020-11, dated April 27, 2020, extends all personal protection orders that expire during the state of emergency (between April 27 and June 1) to July 21, 2020. A respondent objecting to the extension may file a motion and request a hearing under MCR 3.707.

Delay of Jury Trials

AO 2020-10, dated April 23, 2020, delays all jury trials through June 22, 2020, or as provided by local order, whichever is later. The order also provides the SCAO with the authority to start pilot projects regarding remote jury trials.

Temporary Rule Amendments and Deadline Extensions

AO 2020-9, dated April 17, 2020, temporarily amends:

Deadlines for the following are suspended as of March 24, 2020, and are extended until Mich Exec Order No 2020-42 (or subsequent related executive order) expires:

Landlord-Tenant Cases

AO 2020-8, dated April 16, 2020, requires that summary proceedings for nonpayment of rent filed before July 25, 2020, include a “verification indicating whether the property is exempt from the moratorium provided for under the CARES Act [Pub L No 116-136].” The verification must be on a SCAO-approved form.

Duration of Orders

AO 2020-7, dated April 10, 2020, extends AO 2020-1, 2020-2, and 2020-6 (discussed below) through April 30, 2020. The extensions are in response to Mich Exec Order Nos 2020-33 and 2020-42 (discussed here), and Senate Concurrent Resolution 24. Note that Mich Exec Order No 2020-42 was rescinded and replaced by several executive orders. See Mich Exec Order No 2020-92.

Remote Proceedings

AO 2020-6, dated April 7, 2020, authorizes judicial officers to conduct court business and proceedings remotely using two-way interactive videoconferencing technology or other remote participation tools. Those remote procedures must

  • be consistent with a party’s constitutional rights;
  • enable confidential attorney-client communications;
  • allow public access to the proceedings, either during or immediately after via a video recording, unless the proceeding is closed or limited by statute or rule; and
  • enable the judicial officer to create a recording sufficient to enable a transcript to be produced.

All Michigan judges are required to make a “good faith effort to conduct proceedings remotely whenever possible.”

Effective Dates

AO 2020-5, dated March 27, 2020, extends the effective date of the trial court emergency measures in AO 2020-1, and the limits on courtroom access in AO 2020-2, until April 14, 2020. Both orders are discussed below.

Appellate Deadlines

AO 2020-4, dated March 26, 2020, suspends deadlines for all appellate filings beginning March 24, 2020, to correspond with Governor Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order. Deadlines are tolled until the executive order expires on April 13, or until a subsequent executive order “extends the period in which citizens are required to suspend activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life.” Filers will have the same number of days to file after the executive order expires as they would have before it was effective. The MSC provided an example of how this would play out in the order.

Trial Court Filing Deadlines

AO 2020-3, dated March 23, 2020, amended May 1, 2020, pertains to deadlines for starting a civil or probate case. A deadline that “falls during the state of emergency declared by the Governor related to COVID-19 is not included for purposes of MCR 1.108.” The MSC clarified that the order “is intended to extend all [civil and probate] deadlines pertaining to case initiation and the filing of responsive pleadings.” However, a court may still order “an expedited response to a complaint or motion . . . to hear and resolve an emergency matter.” See also Mich Exec Order No 2020-58.

Courtroom Access

AO 2020-2, dated March 18, 2020, directed “trial courts . . . to limit access to courtrooms and other spaces to no more than 10 persons, including staff, and to practice social distancing and limit court activity to only essential functions.” The MSC defined essential functions by court—circuit, district, and probate. All matters that are not listed as an essential function must either be conducted remotely or adjourned until after the order expires. Criminal jury trials must also be adjourned.

Trial Court Emergency Measures

AO 2020-1, dated March 15, 2020, allowed trial courts to implement emergency measures. Chief Justice McCormack discusses the order here. The MSC detailed nine specific actions courts could take, including adjourning cases, using remote technology, employing electronic filing, and reducing cases being heard and people congregating in and around courtrooms. Courts may even close their buildings to the public. Any emergency measures are, “[s]ubject to constitutional and statutory limitations,” particularly in criminal matters. For example, a case involving a defendant in custody may not be adjourned but the court may use teleconferencing.

Court of Appeals Notices

Effective March 27, 2020, the Court of Appeals will be issuing opinions once a week. The opinions will go to parties on Thursdays and subscribers on Fridays.

Local Court Policies

Links to individual court policy changes are available through the State Bar of Michigan local court guidance page. If you would like to forward information about court operations during this time, please email me at rmsed@icle.org

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