Judicial Council Amends Prior Emergency Rule to Adjust Land Use Litigation Deadlines
On May 29, 2020, the California Judicial Council amended its Emergency Rule 9 to provide fixed dates for the tolling of statutes of limitations and repose for civil actions. The prior version of Emergency Rule 9 had tied such tolling to the Governor's lifting of the state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. While this amendment provides greater clarity to all civil actions, it is particularly meaningful for civil actions with short statutes of limitations, such as lawsuits to enforce the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). For such actions, the tolling provided by Emergency Rule 9 is now limited to a 119-day period between April 6, 2020, and August 3, 2020.
On April 6, 2020, the California Judicial Council, the policymaking body of California Courts, adopted 11 temporary emergency rules into the California Rules of Court in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Emergency Rule 9 stated that the statute of limitations for all civil causes of action would be tolled "from April 6, 2020, until 90 days after the Governor declares that the state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic is lifted." Among other things, this created ambiguity regarding the deadline for filing a litigation challenge to a CEQA document or a development approval. Unlike court holidays implemented by several local courts at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed the clock to continue to run (but not end), the provisions of Emergency Order 9 suspended the running of time as to certain actions. Emergency Order 9 created significant uncertainty as to many real estate transactions and development projects.
The amended Emergency Rule 9 now provides two categories of tolling for civil actions:
Toll from April 6, 2020, until October 1, 2020, (178 days), the statutes of limitations and repose for civil causes of action that exceed 180 days; and
Toll from April 6, 2020, until August 3, 2020, (119 days), the statutes of limitations and repose for civil causes of action that are 180 days or less.
The amended Emergency Rule 9 clarifies some of the ambiguity of the original Emergency Rule 9 and reflects the fact that CEQA and the State Planning and Zoning Law intentionally include unusually short limitations periods to provide certainty in the approval process. Moreover, the amended rule confirms that it applies to special proceedings such as writes of mandate, which are the common form of proceedings for CEQA and other land use actions. The amended rule also supports ongoing efforts by Governor Newsom, municipalities, and the court system to keep approvals and projects moving.