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The Current State of Court Operations in Utah
March 17, 2020


The changes to how civil lawsuits will proceed in the coming several weeks fall into two categories:  how courts are reacting and what litigants are still able to do.

HOW UTAH COURTS ARE REACTING

  1. State and federal courthouses remain open but with modified operations. Lawsuits can still be filed, and clerks will be answering phones during business hours.
  2. Each state court judge has discretion to postpone any hearing or trial that is currently set. Trials set to begin before the end of April have a high probability of being cancelled by the judge. Hearings set through the end of April also have a high probability of being postponed by the judge or retaining their scheduled date but being changed to a telephonic hearing. Contact the judge’s clerk to determine the status of your trial or hearing.
  3. In Utah federal district court utcourts.gov, all civil jury trials set to start through May 1, 2020, are vacated and will be rescheduled to a later time. For hearings on civil cases set to take place through March 31, 2020, the presiding judge in the case may at his or her discretion hold the hearing with parties and counsel appearing via video or telephonically; otherwise, all hearings (with the exception of injunction hearings) are vacated and may be rescheduled to a later date at the discretion of the judge presiding over the case.
  4. With very limited exceptions, the Utah Court of Appeals https://www.utcourts.gov/courts/coa/ and Utah Supreme Court https://www.utcourts.gov/courts/sup/ have suspended in-person oral arguments on civil appeals “until further notice.” Appeals that are currently set for oral argument will most likely be decided on the briefs through a memorandum decision. Appeals that are decided in this manner will most likely receive a ruling sooner than if oral argument had been held. However, it is also possible that the appellate court may issue written questions to counsel before issuing a memorandum decision or decide to hold oral argument via WebEx. The appellate courts are expected to issue notices to the parties in coming days for each appeal on which oral argument has been set, either cancelling the oral argument, sending written questions to counsel to aid in a written decision without oral argument or setting oral argument via WebEx. 
  5. Each court will be reevaluating the above procedures and modifying as needed. Postings on any court’s website regarding modified operations and procedures due to coronavirus may change daily.

WHAT LITIGANTS ARE ABLE TO DO

  1. Parties can still issue and answer written discovery, including requests for documents. If a responding party faces delays in accessing and gathering responsive documents due to business disruptions, the parties should, consistent with the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct, work to agree on reasonable extensions.
  2. Depositions can still occur. Court reporters can administer oaths via video or telephone. Depositions can take place on a completely remote basis. As Brent Johnson, General Counsel for the Administrative Office of the Court notes, remote depositions can occur “with no requirement that anyone be in the same place as someone else.” 
  3. In Utah state court cases, a party can elect either a deposition or a report of the other side’s expert. Electing an expert report can minimize the chances of needing to extend expert discovery deadlines.
  4. If a trial is being postponed but a speedy adjudication is important to any or all parties, consider agreeing to arbitrate or mediate in lieu of trial. As with depositions, so long as the parties stipulate, there are alternatives to entirely in-person dispute resolutions.