On March 1, 2020, New Yok suffered its first confirmed case of COVID-19. About two weeks later, in response to the rapidly growing threat that COVID-19 had become, New York Courts began to shut down all but the most essential, major functions. Businesses were asked to cut their staff, stores were forced to close, and while the Courts were initially shut down almost to a standstill, they have since found ways to reopen—in one form or another.
To this end, on May 20, 2020, due to safety concerns regarding the Coronavirus pandemic, New York Courts, including those in Monroe County and the entire 7th Judicial District, determined that all actions—with the exception of certain essential matters—must be filed electronically.
Additionally, in all matters for which e-filing was not available, matters were to be filed by mail. This May 20 Executive Order, along with further orders to the same effect, represented New York’s attempts to quash the spread of the pandemic while ensuring that access to the Courts would not be denied indefinitely to those who needed it.
Simply put, if you had a grievance that you wanted to bring before the Courts, in most cases you could file it electronically here by using New York’s DIY templates, or hire an attorney who could help you think through your matter and file the appropriate paperwork based on New York’s E-Filing instructions. Your attorney would help you to figure out the forms to use, the proper paperwork to serve, and the right language to use in your complaint.
But what happens if you have a case pending before the Courts that had not previously been e-filed? Unfortunately, the guidelines are less clear on this subject. The only initial guidance that New York gave was that ”represented parties must commence new matters or proceed in pending matters exclusively by electronic filing through NYSCEF.” Subsequent Executive Orders on this subject, while providing further guidance for newly commenced e-filing matters and instructions for specific types of cases like evictions, gave no further guidance to those seeking to continue their previously filed hard copy submissions, even though they were now required to be e-filed in order to protect the safety of the Court staff as well as the litigants seeking justice.
Luckily, your local attorneys will have navigated the new e-filing system and should be able to guide you through this process, as it is neither clear nor simple.
Procedurally, the first step is to fill out a “Stipulation and Consent to E-Filing” form. Depending on the nature of your matter, this may require signatures from the other parties or their attorneys. This form confirms that all parties are consenting to file documents in this case electronically, even though the preceding papers had been filed directly by submitting papers to the Court. This is an essential piece of paperwork for the clerk to see before they transfer your file into an electronic format.
Secondly, you will need to navigate to the Electronic Document Delivery System (“EDDS”) filing page. This is where you will follow the instructions on the page, fill in the required information, and file your signed consent form. There is only one option for document type on this page, as this website is designed only for this one specific form, which facilitates the transition from hard copy filing to electronic filing.
For more detailed instructions regarding EDDS filings, the Unified Court System created a User Guide, which explains what the process is and isn’t, and the basics of using the online system. It is a helpful guide, but it is also beneficial to be in communication with an attorney while completing this process to ensure that your papers are being processed and served properly. As the user guide states explicitly that EDDS “is not a substitute for E-Filing” and does not count as “service” on other parties. It is a system all its own.
Once the clerk approves and files your consent form, you will then be able to electronically file documents in your case. This approval process can take some time, depending on the nature of the case, as nearly every hard-filed case is temporarily required to go through this process to move forward at all. While it is recommended that you have an attorney helping you through this filing process, if the clerk rejects your application for consent, it is imperative that you seek out legal counsel to communicate with the clerk’s office and remedy whatever the issue might have been. It is not always a simple fix.
In the future, as New York slowly moves its way back towards normalcy, the Courts will begin to open. In-fact, as of this present date, they have already begun to open for certain in-person functions. However, which functions require in-person filings and which necessitate EDDS stipulations, electronic filings, and hearings over Skype, are subjects best discussed and confirmed with an attorney. At this time, it is important to ensure compliance with the Court’s guidelines for mitigating the continued spread of COVID-19 without unduly impeding the Court’s ability to function.
While these measures are complex, they are temporary, and eventually the Courts will return to a simpler method of filing documents. However, your case is still important. Your case may not be able to wait. As such, if your case necessitates action prior to the Courts return to normal in-person business, be sure to be in touch with the Law Firm of Aaron M. Gavenda, Esq. who can help you with either an online filing or an EDDS transfer. As challenging as this time in your life may be, and as confusing as the current legal process may be as well, there are ways to get your case heard and your matter resolved efficiently and safely even amidst this pandemic. Contact the Law Firm of Aaron M. Gavenda, Esq. today. We would be happy to set up a consultation regarding your case. Whether it is e-filed, traditionally filed, or not yet filed, we are here to help.