Chief Judge Announces New Civil Court Rules

By Christian Nolan

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Good evening Members,

During her weekly coronavirus update today, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced a broad set of amendments to the Uniform Civil Rules for the Supreme Court and the County Court designed to make case management and pretrial litigation more efficient and cost-effective for lawyers and litigants in the civil courts.

A number of the changes also serve the goal of limiting unnecessary personal appearances and foot traffic in the courthouses, DiFiore said.

Highlights of the amendments include:

  • presumptive limits on the number and duration of depositions
  • presumptive limits on interrogatories
  • requiring counsel to consult in good faith to resolve and narrow issues prior to a preliminary or compliance conference with the court
  • procedures for resolving discovery disputes and adhering to discovery schedules
  • staggered appearances for oral argument of motions to reduce courtroom congestion.

DiFiore explained that in 2018, she tasked the statewide Advisory Committee on Civil Practice with evaluating and recommending Commercial Division reforms deemed most suitable for adoption into general civil practice. After nearly three years of intensive study, public comment and additional review and analysis by two working groups of leading judges and practitioners, the Administrative Board of the Courts approved these amendments.

“We are grateful to the many judges and attorneys who devoted their valuable time and expertise to evaluating the Commercial Division’s rules, selecting the most appropriate provisions, and specifically tailoring them for application to our general civil parts,” said DiFiore.

Click here to view the administrative order with the language of the amended rules.

NYC Small Claims Court

DiFiore also announced the launch of what she called an “innovative” Online Dispute Resolution

(ODR) program that is being piloted in small claims matters in Manhattan Civil Court. She said the issues heard in New York City Small Claims Court “may not be as complex as those litigated in Supreme Court but they are every bit as important to the many thousands of individuals and small businesses who appear there every year – usually without a lawyer – to resolve disputes of up to $10,000.”

The new ODR model leverages online technology and alternative dispute resolution to create a user-friendly digital forum that provides unrepresented parties with an opportunity to resolve small claims disputes arising from the purchase or sale of goods and services. Although cases meeting the program’s criteria will be automatically referred to ODR, the parties can opt out for several reasons, including technology or English comprehension challenges, DiFiore explained.

DiFiore said ODR relies on an automated negotiation process. Each party starts out by making an offer that is disclosed only if both offers match. If the offers don’t match, the ODR platform uses algorithms to guide the parties in negotiating further settlement terms. If that process does not lead to a settlement, opportunities for direct negotiation and mediation are made available prior to a scheduled court hearing. If the parties reach an agreement through the ODR platform, they can electronically sign a settlement agreement that is automatically delivered to the court.

Additionally, DiFiore said the ODR platform contains a robust educational component with centralized plain language information and resources to assist litigants in understanding the ODR and small claims processes.

“The ODR pilot was in development well before the pandemic struck, but it is being launched at a most opportune time, when we have to be bold and creative in finding fair, safe and effective ways to resolve disputes and provide access to courts, such as the Small Claims Court, that traditionally operate in crowded environments,” said DiFiore.

COVID-19 Webinars

Wednesday, Feb. 3 – Your Ethical Obligation To Be Competent and Stay Current on New Technologies.

Wednesday, Feb. 10 – Liability for Injury Resulting From Administration of the COVID-19 Vaccine.

Tuesday, Feb. 16 – Virtual Arbitrations Are Here To Stay: What You Need To Know.

Latest NYSBA.ORG News

In addition to coronavirus updates, we are adding other interesting new content to our website.

This year, in honor of Black History Month, the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Diversity and Inclusion is asking everyone to take part in the 28-day Racial Equity Challenge. The challenge encourages participants to take one action every day to delve into the African American experience in America and to further their understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression, and equity.

NYSBA President Scott M. Karson also updated members today about how the association is transforming its operations to better serve New York attorneys. As part of that, NYSBA must reconsider and redesign how and where it does business – and that includes examining the efficacy of its current physical home, the Bar Center, at One Elk Street in Albany. The current lease is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2021.

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