As we have all learned, the Covid-19 Pandemic has had far-reaching effects on our collective welfare and daily life, including financially. Many find themselves with reduced hours, or out of work temporarily or permanently. The uncertainty of “what’s next” has in some cases, merely created an excuse, but in many cases, actually precluded, payment of assessments and property maintenance within community associations. It is generally preferable to work toward an amicable resolution rather than litigate, but we understand this is not always an option.
On March 13, 2020, the Florida Supreme Court (“FLSC”) entered AOSC20-13, limiting access to Florida courthouses for individuals at greater risk of passing along Covid-19, due to prior travel or existing symptoms. On March 17, 2020, FLSC supplemented that Administrative Order by severely limiting in-person hearings to “essential and critical” hearings involving evidence - primarily, those related to criminal proceedings and affecting minors - via AOSC20-15. The presently effective Covid-19 Orders are set to expire on March 27, 2020, but it appears likely they will be extended and supplemented by further FLSC Administrative Orders. Note also that all three Florida federal Districts have likewise closed the courthouses to the public, and are largely holding hearings remotely, if at all.
As of now, FLSC is permitting each County to decide whether its courthouses remain open, although a directive to allow remote (telephonic or video) appearances, if the court is open, is currently in effect, and will be until at least March 27, 2020. Several counties have canceled all foreclosure sales through the end of March (or through other dates). Others may be holding hearings and treating this as “business as normal” until directed otherwise, other than the requirement to allow for remote appearances. The Supreme Court’s Covid-19 webpage (https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/Emergency) provides links to each County’s Administrative Orders and court websites, which show whether each County’s court system remains operational and to what extent.
Finally, President Trump has reportedly directed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to suspend all evictions and foreclosures (it appears this applies only to foreclosure sales, for now) on HUD-backed mortgages, through April 2020. This directive was limited to government actions, but we anticipate some judges and/or counties may follow suit for non-government cases. Likewise, we are seeing some sheriff’s offices advising they are not presently serving process in lawsuits, are not executing on writs of execution (i.e., selling personal or real property to satisfy liens), etc.
In short, some judicial functions remain available, others do not, and until FLSC or the federal government require otherwise, discretion lies with each Florida County. This landscape of local, statewide, and federal governance is, however, changing daily, and we are monitoring it very closely. The ability of a potential litigant to proceed toward, or with, litigation is not simply eliminated, and remains entirely in place in many Florida counties. Florida and federal courts are still accepting filings, and hearings are still being set in many Florida counties. The timeline may be longer than anticipated to resolve these issues, but it is not indefinite as of this writing. Clayton & McCulloh invites our clients to contact the author with any questions regarding the status of the foregoing matters; we are presently fully operational, and pray that everyone stays safe and healthy during this trying time.