I was wondering when this would happen, but it finally has. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued an Executive Order suspending the statute of limitations in a wide variety of cases, both civil and criminal. The term of the suspension is indefinite. This affects the time to bring a suit, the time to file an appeal, and the time to bring criminal prosecutions. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has acted also, extending the time to file a notice of appeal to some litigants.
The reasons should be obvious, but if you don’t live in New York, you might not appreciate what is going on. The courts in the city have fluctuated between closed and dysfunctional. Lawyers, staff and court personnel can’t reach offices as subway tunnels between the boroughs are still underwater, and buses and bridges are packed to the rafters. Many remain without power, or have become homeless as a result of the devastation.
A similar order was issued by Gov. George Pataki after the September 11 attack, for a period of 58 days.
New York, and our cousins in New Jersey, will get through the mess, though the damage to some families will be sadly permanent.
In the interim, the Governor has done the right thing to insure that artificially created time periods don’t unnecessarily injury the legal rights of others.
Pending cases are expected to be in disarray for awhile as the city gets back on its feet and gets its systems up and running, so that trials can be rescheduled.
Update 11/2/12 – The New York Law Journal has a story out today on the court disruptions, and lawyer groups mobilizing to assist victims. It also notes, among other things, that the Office of Court Administration, which is downtown, is closed due to flooding.
And there is this quote from New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman that I thought was worth repeating, given the comparison to September 11:
“You don’t have the tremendous loss of life that you had on 9/11, but in some ways the affected area is much larger,” Lippman said. “In 9/11, the immediate ‘frozen zone’ was identifiable. But here you have it all across the metropolitan area. You have this total failure of transportation, in electricity, in so many different areas that it is traumatic in a different way. The loss of life was so overwhelming on 9/11 and the act was so heinous that it is very different than an act of nature. But I think both are traumatic in their own ways.”