This hurricane — Florence — has proved so far to be underwhelming in Greensboro.
But North Carolina is nevertheless taking this hurricane very seriously. It’s seen as so devastating that the Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court has issued blanket extensions of time in cases pending in 14 Counties, most on the coast or not far inland. The Counties mentioned in his Order are Beaufort, Brunswick, Carteret, Craven, Currituck, Dare, Hyde, Jones, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pender, Sampson, and Tyrrell.
Here’s the deal: if you have a case pending in any of those Counties, and you had a filing due between last Thursday (the 13th) and today, you have a nearly two week extension of time within which to make your filing, by the close of business on September 28th.
How could Chief Justice Martin even do that? Section 39 of Chapter 7A, which is partly captioned “emergency orders in catastrophic conditions” gives him the power to extend deadlines, including tolling the statute of limitations. Given the mandatory evacuations ordered in the fourteen Counties listed above, Chief Justice Martin had the catastrophic conditions and the power to grant the extension of time which he did. Per the statute, the extension of time had to be for at least ten days.
Chief Justice Martin also had the power to extend the statute of limitations in those Counties. The statute gives him the power to:
[e]xtend . . . the time or period of limitation within which pleadings, motions,notices, and other documents and papers may be timely filed and other acts may be timely done in civil actions.
N.C. Gen. Stat. sec. 7A-39(b)(1). Did he exercise that power? Maybe, but I would be leery of relying on the language in his Order to extend the statute of limitations. It says that “all pleadings. motions, notices, and other documents that were due to be filed [in the fourteen Counties] between the dates of 13 September 2018 and 17 September 2018 in civil actions, criminal actions, estates, and special proceedings shall be deemed to be timely done if they are done before the close of business on 28 September 2018.
Does this affect cases in the NC Business Court? Yes, more so than you might think. I counted nearly 200 “active” cases in the Business Court filed in those Counties. There were one hundred from New Hanover County alone. And 42 from Brunswick County.
But given the electronic filing system in the Business Court, did lawyers really need the benefit of this extension? Nobody has to slog through flooded streets to make a filing in the Business Court. But, given that Business Court Rule 3.11 requires a paper filing to be made in the County where the case originated within five days of the date of the electronic filing, maybe yes. I hate that Rule. It seems totally unnecessary.