Covid-19 Pandemic’s Effect on Lawsuit Filing Deadlines

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States, almost every government institution ceased normal operations, including state and federal courts. If a lender wanted to file a lawsuit to collect money from a borrower back in April of 2020, the lender was out of luck because the courts were closed for all business, except for possibly some criminal cases. Lawsuits are required to be filed within a certain time frame known as a “statute of limitation.”  Statutes of limitation give a limited period of time to file a lawsuit over claims that one person or entity has against another. For a collection of delinquent debts, for example, both Kansas and Missouri say that a lawsuit must be filed within 5 years of the last payment received on or charge made to an account. So, if you fail to pay off your Citibank Visa credit card, and your last payment made on that card was April 30, 2015, then Citibank must file a lawsuit by April 30, 2020, or else their claim against you is barred from being collected through the legal system.  But, on April 30, 2020, Citibank could not have filed a lawsuit because the courts throughout the United States were closed.  Now that the pandemic has passed and courts are open again, the question is how to determine how long the statutes of limitation should be extended to account for the shut down of the court system due to the pandemic. The American Bar Association published a paper on this topic on November 15, 2021, on its website – here’s a link to that paper: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/commercial-business/practice/2021/impact-of-covid-emergency-orders-statute-of-limitations/

There are two basic approaches: a narrow and a broad approach.

The Narrow Approach

The narrow approach is easier to understand and says that if a statute of limitations expired during the time that the courts were shut down, then the plaintiff (in our example, that would be Citibank) had a set period of time to file its claim after the courts reopened. In Delaware, for example, plaintiffs whose statutes of limitation expired during the court shutdown were given 17 days after the court re-opened to file lawsuits. So, unless your statute of limitations expired during the shutdown, then your claim’s statute of limitations was unaffected. For example, the Delaware courts closed on March 23, 2020, and re-opened on June 13, 2020. If the last payment on your Citibank account was June 14, 2015, then Citibank still had to have its lawsuit on file on or before June 14, 2020. In the narrow jurisdictions, plaintiffs got no extension unless their statute of limitations expired during the shutdown. To be fair, that is a pretty harsh standard because the courts weren’t the only entities that ceased operations at the start of the pandemic – banks and law firms shut down also. So, if Citibank was about to send your case file over to its lawyer’s office on March 23, 2020, it was giving its attorneys nearly 3 months to review the case file, draft a petition and file the petition with the court. But, Citibank may very well have already been shut down on March 23rd of 2020. If Citibank’s employees didn’t return to work until the same time as the court returned to work in June, then they had practically no time to send the case to the lawyer’s office, and the lawyer had no time to do his or her work in getting the case prepared and filed.

The Broad Approach

The broad approach takes a kinder, gentler approach toward claimants, and it affects all claims that arose prior to the pandemic and whose statutes of limitation ended after the courts closed. The broader approach basically extends the statute of limitations for all cases by the same amount of time that the courts were closed. So, in our example above, the Delaware court was closed for 82 days. In jurisdictions that adopted the broad approach, the deadline for filing claims was extended by 82 days. Consequently, a June 14, 2020, statute of limitations deadline would have been extended to September 4, 2020.

In Kansas, there were a number of administrative orders issued from March 19, 2020, to April 15, 2021 time period. In a nutshell, the Kansas rule states that if the statute of limitations for a claim expired from March 19, 2020, to April 15, 2021 time period, then the plaintiff has an extension of time beginning April 15, 2021, that lasts for the same number of days between March 19, 2020, and the expiration of the statute of limitations. Using our Citibank example, the statute of limitations would have expired June 14, 2020, which was 87 days after the Kansas courts closed on March 19, 2020. So, adding 87 days to April 15, 2021, Citibank’s new deadline for filing the collection lawsuit was July 11, 2021. No extension was given for claims whose statute of limitations ended after April 15, 2021. The Kansas Supreme Court stated that no extension was given for statutes ending after April 15, 2021, on March 31, 2021, essentially giving parties at least 15 days’ warning that their claims would expire at the normal date, notwithstanding the court shutdown.

Missouri, however, adopted what may be the narrowest of all changes – it didn’t extend the statutes of limitation at all. The only concession that Missouri gave to plaintiffs was that once a lawsuit was filed, the assigned judges had wide discretion to ignore the normal time limits for filing follow-on pleadings. Keep in mind that Missouri has had electronic case filing for many years, so a lawyer need only file a lawsuit online by the filing deadline to keep a claim alive. The service of the summons and other deadlines were allowed to be extended by the assigned judge due to the pandemic.

For debtors, and attorneys representing them, this means that in Missouri, the 5-year statute of limitations for collection lawsuits still applies. In Kansas, the same rule applies, unless the statute of limitations expired between March 19, 2020, and April 15, 2021. In only those cases, an extension to the statute of limitations will be granted, and that extension is based on the number of days remaining between March 19, 2020, and the expiration date of the original statute of limitations. The maximum extension available (assuming the statute of limitations ran April 14, 2021) is therefore 391 days in Kansas.

Lawsuit Filing Deadlines

For more information on how the Covid-19 pandemic affected lawsuit filing deadlines involving you, visit our website at www.kansascitybankruptcy.com or call for a free initial consultation with one of our attorneys.

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