The Tennessee Supreme Court today issued an Order that will ease the current restrictions on in-person proceedings starting in March. This is the ninth Order the Court has issued related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Court’s December 22, 2020, and January 15, 2021 Orders, issued during the height of the surge in COVID-19 cases across the state, suspended most in-person hearings, with exceptions, until March 31, 2021.
Because of the recent and continuing decline in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state, the Supreme Court is lifting restrictions on non-jury in-person proceedings earlier than expected. Specifically, today’s Order:
(1) Lifts the suspension of in-person court proceedings in termination of parental rights cases on Monday, March 1, 2021;
(2) Lifts the suspension of all other non-jury in-person court proceedings in all state and local courts in Tennessee, including but not limited to municipal, juvenile, general sessions, trial, and appellate courts on Monday, March 15, 2021; and
(3) Preserves the suspension of all jury trials through the close of business on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, subject only to exceptions that may be granted by the Chief Justice on a case-by-case basis.
If courts elect to hold in-person hearings, they must continue to follow their judicial reopening plans approved in 2020 and available here: https://www.tncourts.gov/node/6042449. In addition, face coverings continue to be required, and attorneys, litigants, and others should familiarize themselves with the Order’s quarantine requirements in cases of exposure or a positive test.
Even with the easing of restrictions, the Court still encourages courts to hold virtual proceedings whenever practical. Since March 2020, Tennessee Courts have held over 11,000 virtual meetings and proceedings. Additionally, Supreme Court Orders, which are not affected by today’s Order, have suspended any Tennessee state or local rule, criminal or civil, that impedes and judge’s or court’s ability to utilize available technologies.