Alabama Governor Authorizes Remote Notary Services

In response to the COVID-19 emergency, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey issued a proclamation authorizing certain notaries to notarize signatures through videoconferencing programs. The complete order can be viewed here.

 
The text of the proclamation related to notaries reads:
 
III. Notaries and witnesses
 
Because person-to-person contact increases the risk of transmitting COVID-19, I find that it would promote the safety and protection of the civilian population to adopt measures that reduce the necessity of in-person meetings. To that end: 
 
A. Notaries in Alabama who are licensed attorneys or operating under the supervision of licensed attorneys may notarize signatures through videoconferencing programs and confirm the signatures of witnesses who participate virtually through videoconferencing as though they were physically present at the signing.
 
B. Any person who witnesses a document through videoconference technology may be considered an “in person” witness, provided that the presence and identity of such witnesses are validated by the notary at the time of the signing by the same identifications required under current law. 
 
C. The official date and time of the notarization shall be the date and time when the notary witnesses the signature via the videoconferencing technology. All documents must be returned to the notary for certification and execution.
 
Texas Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals Issue Succession of Emergency Orders

The First Emergency Order (March 13) requires each court to avoid risk and gives each judge the discretion to manage their courts including using remote appearance and modifying deadlines and rules. The Second Emergency Order (March 17) clarifies that child possession schedules under existing court orders are not affected by a disruption in school. The Third Emergency Order (March 18) amends the First Order in reaction limitations on social gatherings and provides guidance on essential versus non-essential proceedings. The Fourth Emergency Order (March 18) stops and modifies evictions.

On March 20, a Fifth Emergency Order was issued concerning the tolling of deadlines in connection with attorney disciplinary and disability proceedings. This order supplements, not amends prior orders and is retractive to March 13, 2020 until May 8, 2020.

In addition to emergency orders, the Office of Court Administration (OCA) issued guidance reports. The collective reports and orders may be found  in the March 19th report. Although the orders lay down a framework for courts to operate, each court has discretion to use the broad authority issued under the orders. While the OCA requested courts notify it of closures to post to the public, such is not mandatory and can’t be relied upon.

Discretionary powers

 Courts may suspend or modify deadlines.
 Civil courts may modify the statute of limitations.
 Courts may require or allow remote appearance by participates such as attorneys, court reporters, witnesses.
 No remote appearances by juries.
 Courts may consider evidence of sworn statements made out of court or sworn testimony given remotely.
 Courts may conduct proceedings away from the court’s usual location.
 Require participants to notify the court of potential exposure or illness.
 Courts may take other reasonable action to avoid exposure of COVID-19.

Essential versus Non-essential proceedings

 The 3rd Order prohibits judges from conducting non-essential proceedings that would be contrary to the most restrictive local, state, or national directives regarding maximum group size.
 No limitation on remote appearances.
 Governor’s office orders limitations on gatherings of more than 10 people; therefore, courts should not schedule any in-person proceedings that would cause more than 10 people.
 Examples of essential functions: criminal magistration proceedings, CPS removal hearings, temporary restraining orders/temporary injunctions, juvenile detention hearings, family violence protective orders.

Evictions

 The fourth order prohibits a trial, hearing, or other proceeding in an eviction to recover possession of residential property under Chapter 24 of the Property Code and Rule 510 under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
 The prohibition in effect until April 26, 2020.
 The Order permits new filings of eviction cases, but prohibits issuance and service of citation until after April 19, 2020.
 Such proceeding may move forward provided all the following conditions are met:

 Plaintiff files a “sworn complaint for forcible detainer for thereat to person or for cause;
 The corrupt determines the facts and ground for evictions stated in the complaint, under oath with personal knowledge, taken as true, show that the actions of the tenant, or the tenant’s household members or guest, pose an imminent threat of (1) physical harm to the plaintiff, the plaintiff’s employees, or other tenants, or (2) criminal activity; and
 The court signs an order stating procedure for the case to proceed.

Remote Proceedings – New Tool

The Office of Court Administration (OCA) procured licenses from Zoom to permit any judge in the state to host and provide public access to the proceedings. The tool is free app that can be downloaded to a cell, tablet or computer. Judges can then publish the electronic proceeding to YouTube whereby meeting requirement of public access because courts may conduct proceedings away from their normal location.

 
Mass. District Court Closes Courthouse

On March 23, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts closed its courthouse located in Springfield, Mass. because an employee of the clerk’s office reported having symptoms consistent with COVID-19. As a result, all operations at the courthouse were closed pending further order of the Court. The order is available here.

 
NY State Courts Prohibits New Filings Except in Specified Matters

On March 22, the New York State Administrative Office of the Courts prohibited county clerks or the courts from accepting for filing “papers . . . in any matter” except the following:

Criminal matters

    1. – arraignments
    2. – bail applications, reviews and writs
    3. – temporary orders of protection
    4. – resentencing of retained and incarcerated defendants
    5. – essential sex offender registration act (SORA) matters

Family Court

    1. – child protection intake cases involving removal applications
    2. – newly filed juvenile delinquency intake cases involving remand placement applications, or modification thereof
    3. – emergency family offense petitions/temporary orders of protection
    4. – orders to show cause
    5. – stipulations on submission

Supreme Court

    1. – Mental Hygiene Law (MHL) applications and hearings addressing patient retention or release
    2. – MHL hearings addressing the involuntary administration of medication and other medical care
    3. – newly filed MHL applications for an assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) plan
    4. – emergency applications in guardianship matters
    5. – temporary orders of protection (including but not limited to matters involving domestic violence)
    6. – emergency applications related to the coronavirus
    7. – emergency Election Law applications
    8. – extreme risk protection orders (ERPO)

Civil/Housing matters

    1. – applications addressing landlord lockouts (including reductions in essential services)
    2. – applications addressing serious code violations
    3. – applications addressing serious repair orders
    4. – applications for post-eviction relief

All Courts

    1. – any other matter that the court deems essential

The order was immediately effective and will remain effective until further order. It applies to both paper and electronic fillings. A copy of the order is available here.

 
Ohio Closes Non-Essential Businesses, Orders Persons to ‘Stay at Home’

On March 22, the Ohio Department of Health issued a “Stay at Home Order.” The order directs all “individuals currently living” in Ohio to stay at home except under limited Circumstances. The order also requires “all businesses and operations” within Ohio to “cease all activities within the State except for “Minimum Basic Operations.”

Minimum Basic Operations are:

 The minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of the business’s inventory, preserve the condition of the business’s physical plant and equipment, ensure security, process payroll and employee benefits, or for related functions.
 The minimum necessary activities to facilitate employees of the business being able to continue

While engaged in Minimum Basic Operations, persons must comply with Social Distancing Requirements. Social Distancing Requirements include maintaining six foot distance from other individuals, frequent hand washing with soap and was for twenty seconds or the use of had sanitizer, “covering coughs or sneezes (into the sleeve or elbow, but not hands),” regular cleaning of “high touch surfaces,” and no hand shaking.

The order is available here.

 
New Jersey Imposes Statewide Remain at Home Order – Shutters Specific Businesses

On March 21, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed Executive Order 107 imposing restrictions on the operation of businesses and individuals located within the state.

EO-107, which became effective at 9 p.m. the same day, requires those living in New Jersey to “remain home or at their place of residence” with limited exceptions.  Among the exceptions is “reporting to, or performing, their job.” However, EO-107 also shutters “the brick-and-mortar” premises of all non-essential “retail businesses.” The order also closes “personal care services” such as beauty salons and spas. “Social clubs associated with community service organizations,” are also ordered closed, unless they provide “medically necessary or therapeutic services.”

The order does not close other service providers, such as law firms and collection agents, but does curtail office operations to only “essential operations.” Businesses that are not ordered closed “must accommodate their workforce, wherever practicable, for telework or work-from-home arrangements.” And to the extent that a business has employees “that cannot perform their functions” remotely, a business “should make best efforts to reduce staff on site to the minimal number necessary to ensure that essential operations can continue.”

A copy of EO-107 is available here.

 
Ohio Supreme Court Recommends Temporary Stay of Garnishments 

On March 20, the Supreme Court of Ohio issued “Guidance to Local Courts” recommending they “temporarily stay the filing and enforcing of any garnishment actions or orders.” A copy of the bulletin is available here.

 
Massachusetts Suspends Most Trials and Hearings 

On March 17, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts issued Standing Order 3-20 effectively postponing all criminal and civil trials set to commence between March 17 and April 17 to “a date no earlier than April 21, 2020.” The order permits trials in civil matters “otherwise than in person” by agreement of the parties and the court. The order specifically prohibits in-person proceedings except for specified emergency matters.  

 
Texas Department of Banking

The Texas Department of Banking issued guidance that regulated entities should consider under the COVID-19 crisis.  In Industry Notice 2020-03, issued March 16, the regulator stated it “trusts our financial institutions will work with their customers in a safe and sound manner to help the borrowers recover and provide an opportunity to ultimately repay their debt” and “supports prudent measures taken by financial institutions to help customers with their needs.” A copy of the guidance is available here.

 
FDIC

On March 9, the FDIC issued guidance to financial institutions on how to assist customers and members affected by the coronavirus. The FDIC continues to provide updates about the impact of COVID-19 on the banking industry. The FDIC Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information for Bankers and Consumers home page is available here.

 
CDC

The CDC COVID-19 home page provides resources for businesses and employers and offers advice on keeping commercial, community and living spaces safe. The CDC COVID-19 home page is available here.