Ohio Supreme Court Presses Pause on Court Deadlines in Response to Pandemic

Smart Summary

  • The Ohio Supreme Court has officially postponed court deadlines that were set to expire on or after March 9, 2020.
  • Unless extended, this “tolling” Order will terminate on or before July 30, 2020, and cases will begin aging again.
  • Other administrative bodies may also now waive any requirement for parties to appear for a proceeding in-person.

On March 9, 2020, Governor DeWine issued Executive Order 2020-01D, which declared a state of emergency in Ohio in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, on March 27, 2020, Governor DeWine signed H.B. 197 into law, which immediately “tolled” all statutes of limitations and other deadlines set forth in the Ohio Revised Code and the Ohio Administrative Code, until either the Order expires or July 30, 2020—whichever comes sooner. The tolling of statutes of limitations and other deadlines means that the courts will effectively press “pause” on the time limits imposed on potential litigants.

Also on March 27, the Supreme Court of Ohio issued an Order that tolls the time requirements set forth in all rules promulgated by the Supreme Court. This includes, for example, the rules governing:

  • civil procedure;
  • criminal procedure;
  • appellate procedure;
  • juvenile procedure;
  • evidence;
  • professional conduct; and
  • judicial conduct.

Why Was This Order Necessary?

Even though H.B. 197 tolled statutes of limitations and other deadlines set forth in the Ohio Revised and Administrative Codes, those are not the only time limits that impact lawsuits and court dockets.

Statutes of limitations are just that—statutes. The traditional Constitutional notion of separation of powers means that the legislature cannot toll the time requirements set forth in the Supreme Court’s various rules. It can toll only the deadlines set forth in statutes.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court issued this Order to officially toll its own deadlines, making it easier for practitioners and clients to understand their timing obligations in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, this tolling will help ensure that a person with a legal claim isn’t prevented from bringing her lawsuit because of delays caused by COVID-19.

When is the Tolling Period?

H.B. 197 applies retroactive to March 9, 2020, when Governor DeWine issued the executive order declaring a state of emergency. Similarly, the Supreme Court’s Order applies retroactive to March 9, and all deadlines falling on or after March 9 are tolled.

Both Executive Order 2020-01D and the Supreme Court’s Order will remain in effect until either the Governor declares that Ohio is no longer in a state of emergency or July 30, 2020, whichever comes first.

What Does “Tolling” Mean?

When a deadline is tolled, time essentially stands still. For example, if a deadline in a case was previously set for March 10, 2020—the day after tolling began—the deadline would now fall one day after the Order ends. This means that, while a tolling period is in effect, a case does not age at all. The case schedule simply picks up where it left off before tolling began.

What Else Does the Order Say?

In addition to tolling all rule-imposed deadlines, the Supreme Court’s Order also allows courts, hearing panels, boards, or commissions to waive any requirement set forth in a Supreme Court-promulgated rule that a party appear for a proceeding in person. To the extent possible, these bodies may permit parties to serve documents or appear electronically, if all parties’ interests and rights remain sufficiently protected.

This is consistent with the Supreme Court’s previous guidance to local courts, encouraging them to reschedule essential appearances and to move non-essential appearances to telephone or videoconference.

Shana Marks is an associate trial lawyer with Kegler Brown, where she focuses on representing clients in complex commercial and probate litigation. She can be reached at [email protected] or (614) 462-5423.