Civil Litigation in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit During Coronavirus Pandemic – What you need to know

The attorneys at Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest, and Cross are here to keep you informed about the effects that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (the “Pandemic”) is having, and will continue to have, on the operations of civil litigation in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida in and for Miami-Dade County (the “Eleventh Judicial Circuit”). This article is one in a series that we will be providing in an effort to keep you up to date on many legal issues being faced by litigants throughout Florida during this uncertain time.

During the Pandemic, Florida courts are continually changing state and local administrative orders to facilitate social distancing and due process. This creates unique challenges because each judicial circuit has taken different approaches to address the Pandemic. As a result, local counsel with local knowledge is more important than ever.

Since March 12, 2020, Miami-Dade County has been under a State of Local Emergency. As the epicenter of the Pandemic in Florida, Miami-Dade County has been at the forefront in finding solutions to keep society running. This article is a synopsis of existing protocols as of April 23, 2020 in Miami-Dade County.

Remote Court Hearings

Miami-Dade courtrooms are historically crowded, and the most drastic change has been the elimination of nearly all in-person court appearances, because courthouse employees have tested positive for COVID-19, which has elevated the necessity of social distancing.

Beginning on March 17, 2020 the Eleventh Judicial Circuit cancelled all non-emergency proceedings, including special set hearings, trials, motion calendar, foreclosure calendar, and case management conferences. Only mission critical court matters were allowed to proceed, but these exempted matters were unrelated to civil litigation. All court facilities remain closed to the public through May 29, 2020, except for those individual attending emergency or mission-critical court matters.

On March 25, 2020 non-essential hearings were allowed to proceed if they could be effectively conducted using remote attendance technology. As a result, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit trained its judges and staff to use the Zoom platform for remote hearings. These remote hearings allow litigation to proceed, and non-jury trials are even available with unanimous consent. Guidelines have been established for the introduction of evidence in evidentiary hearings conducted remotely during the Pandemic.

Jury Trials

Unfortunately, jury trials are not permitted to occur with remote attendance at this time. Pursuant to Florida Supreme Court Administrative Orders AOSC20-13, AOSC20-17 and AOSC20-23, all grand jury proceedings, jury selection proceedings, and criminal and civil jury trials are suspended during May 29, 2020.

Remote Oath Administrations

On March 24, 2020 the Florida Supreme Court allowed oaths to be administered remotely for court testimony, depositions, and other out-of-court legal testimony, as long as the notary or other qualified person can both see and hear the witness via audio-video communications equipment to identify the witness. This allows depositions to be conducted remotely without the need to have the court reporter present with the witness to administer the oath. Witnesses for remote court hearings and non-jury trials can also be sworn in remotely in order to provide testimony via the Zoom platform without the need for the witness to appear in-person.

Electronic Filings

Most court pleadings were already being filed electronically before the Pandemic. As a result, court filings remain mostly unaffected by the Pandemic. On April 1, 2020 the Eleventh Judicial Circuit further encouraged all self-represented litigants to register with the Florida e-Filing Portal to eliminate the need for mailed or in-person court filings.

Suspension of Time Limits

On April 13, 2020, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit ordered that any deadlines that became due prior to the close of business on June 1, 2020 shall be extended and become due on June 1, 2020, unless the presiding judge issued a different time deadline by a court order issued after March 17, 2020. Additionally, any party may seek a different time deadline by filing the appropriate motion with the presiding judge. Any time deadlines that become due after June 1, 2020 remain due on those dates.

The result of these orders from the Eleventh Judicial Circuit mean that deadlines to respond to complaints, subpoenas, and discovery requests are effectively suspended until June 1, 2020, unless the presiding judge orders an earlier deadline.

Writs of Possession

The Florida Supreme Court has suspended the issuance of writs of possession until May 29, 2020. Furthermore, the Miami-Dade Police Department has suspended enforcement of writs of possession until further notice. As self-help evictions are not allowed in Florida, even with a final judgment, landlords cannot legally repossess their property without being able to obtain or enforce writs of possession.

Like all aspects of society, litigation must find a way to continue during the Pandemic while respecting the requirements of social distancing. With a continuously changing legal landscape, it is more important than ever to make sure that you are represented by qualified counsel who is knowledgeable and aware of the prevailing local changes in their judicial circuit.

DISCLAIMER: The information on this page is provided as courtesy and general guidance, but is not provided as legal advice by Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest, and Cross, PLLC and should not be relied upon in any manner.

  1. For a full list of mission critical matters, please see Eleventh Judicial Circuit Administrative Order No. 20-03