For more than six months, New York has been operating under modified rules for service of process to accommodate the need to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. However, the Chief Administrative Judge for the New York Unified Court System has issued an order resuming normal procedures for service of process. This means that, with a few notable exceptions, the previous procedures are back in effect, although there are still provisions in place for minimizing in-person contact.
The Coronavirus and the Courts
The 2019 novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is the single greatest public health crisis the United States has faced in over a century. With more than ten million confirmed cases and more than 240,000 dead across the country, the coronavirus has forced people to substantially alter their lives to avoid infection. The court system, unfortunately, was no exception, with New York joining nearly every other state in restricting court activities to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Foremost amongst these changes was a dramatic limitation to in-person filing of court documents, with electronic filing now preferred whenever possible. The statute of limitations for all non-essential cases was also tolled for the duration of the quarantine, as the courts remained closed to most cases while the COVID-19 crisis was at its height. When these cases did need to be conducted, many of them were being handled remotely, again allowing cases to go forward without putting people at unnecessary risk of coronavirus exposure.
Changes to Service of Process During the Quarantine
Some of the most dramatic changes, however, were those made to service of process rules. Under normal circumstances, the courts showed a strong preference towards in-person service of process, where the summons and complaint were delivered to the person named in the lawsuit, or otherwise to their registered agent. Alternative means of service, such as service by mail or electronic service, tended to be discouraged, and were only permitted when in-person service of process turned out to be impractical or impossible.
With the new rules in place, however, these alternative kinds of service of process were not only allowed, but preferred. After all, there is far less risk of infection when a summons and complaint is served by mail rather than in person. This upended the normal way of doing things, and process servers had to quickly adapt to handle the new environment. And that is how things have been, up until very recently.
A Return to Normal?
With this latest executive order, AO/267/20, the Chief Administrative Judge suspends many of the procedural changes that were put into place during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. This signals a shift to a return to normal, with courts once again taking up “non-essential” cases that had been suspended due to COVID-19. For some, this means being able to continue cases that had been on hold since March.
However, not everything is returning to the way things were before the coronavirus. Many court proceedings are still being conducted remotely via teleconferencing software, and many courts are still advising people to use electronic filing and other forms of remote filing to minimize risk of spreading the coronavirus. In addition, there remains a standing warning that any or all of the previous emergency measures could again be implemented if the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge overseeing a particular court determines it is necessary to protect the health and safety of the public. Until then, the original rules about service of process will be returning to normal, at least for now.
The process servers at Nicoletti & Harris have provided service of process and litigation support for our clients since 1986, giving us the experience to handle the demands of the modern legal environment. We provide service for all areas of law, assisting clients throughout New York, New Jersey, and Florida. If you require a process server or other forms of litigation support, contact our New York office at (212) 267-6448, or you can contact our New Jersey office at (732) 677-3903, or you can visit our contact page.