COVID-19 Task Force E-lert: COVID-19 and the Florida Judicial System

Authored by Juan Martinez and Emily Pineless

During this turbulent time, Florida state courts are actively trying to move cases along to avoid substantial backlog upon return to life post-quarantine. Although the Florida Supreme Court extended deadlines through May 29, 2020, in response to COVID-19, the Court still encouraged chief judges to maintain judicial workflow by conducting proceedings using technology. Thus, even though courts are physically closed for all proceedings unless deemed “essential and critical trial court proceedings,” Florida courts remain open, albeit remotely and with the use of new technology.

The courts, however, have not specified a required medium to be used for “non-essential court proceedings,” such as non-jury trials, evidentiary hearings, motion calendar hearings, status conferences, pretrial conferences, and mediations. Instead, each judge selects the preferred medium (i.e., CourtCall, Zoom Conference, WebEx), which can typically be found by searching each judge’s procedures. Thus, court appearances are still viable during COVID-19 and while practicing social distancing measures. In fact, for the first time in history, the Florida Supreme Court plans to hold oral arguments by video teleconference beginning on May 6, 2020. 

When it comes to court filings, Florida’s free electronic filing portal (“e-Filing Portal”) has not been impacted by COVID-19, which means that parties may continue to file court documents, electronically serve parties, and obtain electronic communications from the courts about the case, just as they did prior to COVID-19. As such, parties may still meet deadlines pursuant to the Florida Rules of Procedure and appeals must still be timely filed. The Florida courts have encouraged those self-represented individuals to register with the E-Filing Portal, since in person paper filings are presently suspended. Further, individuals may still request records from the Clerk & Comptroller in Florida counties, but should do so electronically.  

Although Florida courts are predominately operating remotely for “non-essential court proceedings,” there are certain proceedings which have been completely suspended due to COVID-19. For example, earlier this month, Governor Ron DeSantis executed an Executive Order which suspended for forty-five (45) days evictions and foreclosures in the State of Florida. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Congress also enacted a temporary moratorium on eviction filings and have prohibited landlords of certain rental “covered dwellings” from charging fees, penalties, or other charges to the tenant for nonpayment of rent for 120 days since CARES Act was enacted on March 27, 2020. Additionally, such landlords must provide tenants at least 30 days' notice to vacate the property, but landlords cannot issue a notice to vacate during the 120-day period. The CARES Act also established a foreclosure moratorium, whereby a servicer of federally backed mortgage loans for residential real property cannot initiate any foreclosure, move for a foreclosure judgment or order of sale, or execute a foreclosure-related eviction for at least 60-days beginning on March 18, 2020. For those borrowers with federally-backed mortgage loans, they may contact their loan servicer to request forbearance for up to 180-days if their financial hardship is due to COVID-19. During the forbearance period, no fees, penalties, or interest beyond the amount scheduled or calculated are allowed.

In other instances, such as service of process, some Florida courts have allowed the Sherriff to stay execution of writs of possession, levies, replevins, writs of garnishments, regular summonses, legal documents, mental health documents, paid papers, out-of-state orders, tax deeds, etc. Certified process servers, however, may still serve civil process, but are required to practice social distancing. Since each jurisdiction is different, and procedures continue to evolve during this time, it is best to continue to review each court’s orders regarding COVID-19.

While life after COVID-19 remains unclear, the Florida courts are prepared to ensure that the transition from remote access to fully opening courthouses is smooth. As of April 21, 2020, the Florida Supreme Court created a seventeen (17) member team called, Workgroup of the Continuity of Court Operations and Proceedings During and After COVID-19, which will develop findings and recommendations to return to full court operation in a safe manner. 

Below we have set forth links to the COVID information for the larger Florida circuit trial courts and federal district courts in Florida. We have also included links to the Florida appellate courts, the federal appellate courts, and the United States Supreme Court.

Florida State Circuit Trial Courts

Florida State Appellate District Courts

Federal Appellate Circuit Courts

Florida Federal District Courts

Supreme Court