The Third Circuit responds to coronavirus

The novel coronavirus pandemic has transformed life in the United States with dizzying ferocity, so inevitably we’re all feeling its impact here in the Third Circuit. With offices, businesses, and schools across the circuit shut down for weeks to come, many are focused now on hunkering down with family, not keeping abreast of federal appellate doings. But the Third Circuit remains open, oral arguments remain scheduled, and filing deadlines remain in place. This post aims to summarize matters.

Yesterday the Third Circuit posted a notice on its website regarding court operations during the pandemic. The court is “open for business and will fulfill its constitutional and statutory obligations and responsibilities.” A direct link to the notice is here.

Anyone with a pending or upcoming Third Circuit case should read the entire notice, but here are highlights to note:

  • oral arguments will proceed as scheduled, with each panel deciding the manner of argument. “Parties may file a motion requesting to appear by audio conference.” The court has a normal slate of arguments scheduled next week before Judges Jordan, Restrepo, and Fuentes/Greenberg.
  • Parties seeking emergency relief are to leave a message for the Clerk’s Office at 267-299-4904.
  • Normally parties requesting extensions by phone per LAR 31.4 (first extensions on briefs of 14 days or less) must do so at least 3 days before the due date, but until normal operations resume the 3-day limit is relaxed.
  • Filing of paper copies and briefs and appendices is deferred.
  • 3-day grace period on filing deadlines.

Note, however: ” The due date for a notice of appeal, petition for review or other document that
confers jurisdiction on the Court is not altered by this notice. The filing dates for
those papers remain as stated in the statute or rule that confers jurisdiction.”

So appeals are still moving forward. Most filing deadlines are loosened a little, your paper copies can wait, and if you have oral argument you can ask to do it by phone, but, bottom line, you’re still on the hook.

The Third Circuit’s procedures are broadly in line with other circuits’, helpfully linked and summarized on Lawfare here.

Beyond court procedures, I’ve heard lots of discussion about what will befall the circuit conference scheduled to begin May 13. The court has made no announcement yet, and the registration page remains live, so it’s reasonable to infer it hasn’t yet decided. My guess is that the odds of the conference going on as scheduled are more or less zero, and the choice will be between outright cancellation or postponing until fall. I don’t know the logistical challenges involved with postponing, and I’m a giant circuit-conference enthusiast, so I’m rooting for postponement.

I’ll end with one soapbox plea to my fellow lawyers. Many of us have our hands more than full trying to keep up with appeals while dealing with homebound-kid freakouts, non-homebound-older-parent freakouts, and all the other stresses of a pandemic-plus-economic-meltdown. So, yes, none of us will be at our best. But, no matter how frayed you get, do your level best to treat clerk’s office and court staff with the courtesy and patience they deserve. They’re keeping a federal circuit court humming under off-the-charts trying circumstances, and the last thing they need is any bonus headaches from us.