Certain eviction hearings have been given the green light to begin on June 1, according to the latest Tennessee Supreme Court order that eases some of the restrictions imposed on court proceedings in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Since March 13, the state's judicial branch has been under a state of emergency that put a halt on most in-person court proceedings for criminal, civil and juvenile courts. That included a blanket prohibition on eviction hearings.
According to the order, filed Wednesday, landlords can file for eviction only if they first declare that the property is not subject to the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, otherwise known as the CARES Act. The declaration must be filed 10 days before any hearing on the matter or it will be postponed.
The CARES Act bars landlords from seeking eviction for nonpayment of rent if the property has a federally backed loan or receives housing subsidies. Eviction hearings for properties that are subject to the CARES Act will be postponed until the moratorium imposed by the act is lifted.
In Hamilton County, landlords will be allowed to file for evictions, but hearings will not be scheduled until after each litigant has been put on notice, General Sessions Judge Christie Sell said.
Once hearings do start, they'll be subject to a "staggered docket," she said.
For example, in General Sessions Civil Division, 10 proceedings will be held per hour between 9 and 11 a.m. and again at 1 p.m. each day except for Thursday, during which proceedings will be limited to just five cases per hour. The court will keep operating under those rules until there is a sustained decline in COVID-19 cases in the county. At that point, more cases will gradually be added to each docket in both civil and criminal divisions.
Once a full re-opening is reached, the usual Monday morning docket for eviction cases will become three dockets a day every day of the week until the backlog is cleared, Sell has said.
Wednesday's order also encourages courts to continue and even increase the use of technology for remote proceedings whenever possible and briefly extends orders of protection and temporary injunctions until June 15. But it caps deadline extensions only until June 5, and more extensions are not anticipated.
"The point of extending deadlines was to give judges, attorneys, and litigants time to adjust to this new normal and weather this storm a bit," reads a statement from Chief Justice Jeffrey Bivins. "But, extensions cannot go on indefinitely. Judges, of course, can extend deadlines on an individual basis when permissible."