All civil claims are subject to a statute of limitations, meaning if they are not pursued within a certain time period a lawsuit cannot be brought.  The length of the statute depends on the specific claim, but most claims have a limitations period of between two and six years.

 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, followed by significant court closures, the California Judicial Council responded with Emergency Rule 9.  The rule “tolled” (or “paused”) the statutes of limitation for civil actions from March 6, 2020 until 90 days after Governor Newsom lifted the state of emergency.  “Tolling” stops or suspends the running of statutes of limitations; when the tolling period ends, the clock starts again.

 

The Judicial Council has now amended Rule 9 to provide an end date for the tolling period.  Specifically, Amended Emergency Rule 9 creates two tolling periods depending on the length of the pertinent statute of limitation.  Under Rule 9(a), statutes of limitations that exceed 180 days are tolled from April 6, 2020 until October 1, 2020.  Under Rule 9(b), statutes of limitations of up to 180 days are tolled from April 6, 2020, until August 3, 2020.

 

Because most statutes of limitation are over 180 days, the practical effect of the Amended Rule appears to be that most civil statutes of limitation have been extended by 178 days, i.e. the period between April 6, 2020 and October 1, 2020.  The new rule may therefore revive claims that were otherwise time barred, or provide litigants with more time to file their claims.

 

That said, the Judicial Council provided no guidance or illustration on the application of the amended rule, and some commentators have noted that its effect is not altogether clear, particularly as it relates to claims with a shorter limitations period.

 

Since statutes of limitation are critical in litigation, the practitioner would be well-advised to acquaint himself or herself with the new rule and its effect.

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