In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal, state and local courts are adjusting their policies and operating procedures to protect public health. The following information has been collected from both public and private sources to keep members of the legal community informed about court operations in Tennessee. If you have an update you would like posted here please email news to email@example.com.
Local Rules of Court — Updates from courts across Tennessee are being posted to the Administrative Office of the Courts website.
Federal Courts & State Courts Across the Nation - Law360 has a roundup of new policies; the Brennan Center has orders and announcements from federal courts and state courts across the nation; and the National Center for State Courts has a map showing which state courts are holding virtual hearings and remote oral arguments, restricting entrance to court buildings and releasing prisoners, and those that have begun loosening restrictions.
Court Re-Opening Plans - Courts across Tennessee are working on plans to re-open in-person proceedings. Plans must be submitted to and approved by the Tennessee Supreme Court. See all court plans submitted and approved on the AOC website. On Nov. 17, the Tennessee Supreme Court halted all jury trials through the end of January 2021 regardless of what these local plans call for. All plans approved in 2020.
2nd Judicial District - Plan approved on May 5
3rd Judicial District - Plan approved on April 30
4th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 7
5th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 4
6th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 5
7th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 7
8th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 13
9th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 7
10th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 15
11th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 6
12th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 29
13th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 5
14th Judicial District - Plan approved on April 30
15th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 5
16th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 1
17th Judicial District - Plan approved on April 30
18th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 7
19th Judicial District - Plan approved on April 26
20th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 22
21st Judicial District - Plan approved on May 14
22nd Judicial District - Plan approved on May 5
23rd Judicial District - Plan approved on May 11
24th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 6
25th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 5
26th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 5
27th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 1
28th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 5
29th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 1
30th Judicial District - Plan approved on May 28
31st Judicial District - Plan approved on May 7
4th Judicial District Circuit Courts - Judges in district have signed a standing order that reduces to zero the bond required for nonviolent unsentenced individuals charged with a misdemeanor offense or those arrested for a felony technical violation of the rules of probation. The Citizen Tribune has more.
18th Judicial District Courts - Judges in the 18th Judicial District issued a joint order on March 19, 2020, clarifying that provisions of parenting plans are to be observed during this time unless the parties have agreed to temporary modifications made in the best interest of the child.
Blount County Courts - Blount County courts have suspended in-person hearings through May 2020, the Daily Times reports. On Oct. 16, 2020, the court issued an order guiding court procedures. It adopted changes to those procedures on Nov. 24, 2020.
Blount County General Sessions Courts - On Nov. 24, 2020, criminal dockets were suspended from Dec. 1, 2020, until Jan. 29, 2021, subject to the following exception: proceedings necessary to protect constitutional rights of criminal defendants, including bond-related matters, plea agreements for incarcerated individuals that will result in jail release, and and stipulations of probation violations that will result in jail release will continue. On Dec. 16, 2020, Blount County General Sessions Court announced that it would hold in-custody criminal dockets on Dec. 21 and Dec. 30, but all other court dates will be rescheduled until after Jan. 4, 2021.
Chattanooga City Court - The court will not hear cases from March 16-31, 2020. The city court clerk's office will remain open during regular business hours to answer any questions and to accepts payments. Any person who has been cited to court during these two weeks will be notified of a new court date by the clerk's office.
Davidson County Courts - The Tennessee Supreme Court has approved the Davidson County courts' plan to begin re-opening to in-person proceedings. Jury trials will be postponed until at least July 6,2020. Other new requirements call for temperature checks and the wearing of masks to enter the court buildings. The Tennessean has more on the plan.
Davidson County Chancery Court Parts I & II - Chancery Court Part I issued an order on March 26, 2020, continuing all trials scheduled through April 30,2020, to a date to be determined and postponing name change hearings. It also sets new procedures for other motions, hearings and temporary restraining orders and encourages the use of e-filing and fax filing. Chancery Court Part II also issued a similar order on March 26, 2020.
Davidson County Circuit Court, 7th Circuit - The court has announced temporary procedures now in place during this health emergency. For the latest updates, see this document, which will be updated as needed. Judge Randy Kennedy also has issued two blanket orders regarding the court's Probate Master and Special Master.
Davidson County Criminal Court - On Dec. 9, 2020, the courtrooms of criminal court judges Monte D. Watkins and Mark J. Fishburn closed temporarily after an individual in Tennessee Department of Correction custody with COVID-19 was at the Justice A.A. Birch Building.
Davidson County General Sessions Court - The court has approved an abbreviated docket schedule from March 16 to April 9,2020. The only dockets open will be felony & misdemeanor jail, domestic violence jail, orders of protection and emergency psychiatric committals. Effective March 18, 2020, the following procedures will apply to all jail dockets. On Sept. 23, 2020, the court ordered new procedures for eviction cases to ease crowding in halls and common areas. The court reduced judges' dockets beginning Dec. 7, 2020, due to an increase in COVID-19 cases.
Davidson County Chancery Court - On Aug. 12, 2020, Circuit Court Judge Joe Binkley Jr., presiding judge of the 20th Judicial District, signed an order yesterday suspending jury trials in the district’s chancery courts through the end of 2020.
Davidson County Circuit Court - The clerk's office will remain open on a limited basis but person-to-person interaction will be limited. On Aug. 12, 2020, Circuit Court Judge Joe Binkley Jr., presiding judge of the 20th Judicial District, signed an order yesterday suspending jury trials in the district’s circuit courts through the end of 2020.
Davidson County Traffic Violation Bureau - A drop box will be available outside the offices for filings and payments. Please call before leaving payments. Payments may also be made online.
Executive Office for Immigration Review - Immigration courts in a number of locations, including Memphis, Louisville and Atlanta, are closed through April 10. All non-detained hearings, including merits hearings, are postponed through April 10, 2020. Detained cases will be heard as scheduled. Follow updates on Twitter or Facebook or the office's website.
Georgia Supreme Court - The court has issued an order temporarily waiving the state’s six-hour in-person CLE requirement. Lawyers are still required to fulfill their 12-hour CLE requirement by March 31, 2020, but the order allows all hours to be completed through self-study or online seminars. Read the order. For questions, contact the State Bar's CLE Department at 404-527-8710 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hamilton County Circuit Court Clerk's Office - The clerk announced March 18,2020, that the office is going back to an 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule but with reduced staff (clerk staff will be working alternate days to reduce the number in the office by at least half on any given day). The office had been closing at 2 p.m. for the last few days. Fax filing fees also will be waived. Chattanoogan.com has the news.
Hamilton County Circuit & Chancery Courts - The court issued an order March 18, 2020, governing its operations.
Hamilton County Criminal Court - The court issued an order on March 18, 2020, governing its operations.
Hamilton County General Sessions Court - The court has announced that all non-essential court cases will be put on hold for now. Defendants who are on bond, including traffic cases, alleged victims and witnesses will be notified of the new court date. Read the civil and criminal court orders. The office also is rescheduling eviction cases for April or later as dockets reach capacity. Delays will be mitigated by scheduling dockets for every day of the week rather than just Mondays. Eviction proceedings will be scheduled for 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. with no more than 10 cases on each docket to minimize how many people are in court at any given time, Judge Christie Sell told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. On May 18, 2020, Phase 2 of the court's re-opening plan began with the court operating three criminal courtrooms. The morning docket will begin at 8:30 a.m. The afternoon docket will begin at 1:30 p.m. Lawyers are asked to check with the court at 423-209-7660 to see if any cases can be resolved outside of court. In November 2020, the Hamilton County Health Department reported that people may have been exposed to COVID-19 at the court. The criminal division of the Hamilton County General Sessions Court will close from Dec. 18, 2020 to Jan. 4, 2021, and hear only in-custody cases due to court personnel testing positive for the COVID-19 virus.
Hamilton County Juvenile Court - For the remainder of March 2020, the court will only hear emergency child safety cases and constitutionally required matters. Non-emergency matters will be rescheduled. Chattanoogan.com has more details. UPDATE: Effective March 20, 2020, the court will accept filings via email to JuvenileCourtFilings@hamiltontn.gov. Get more information and instructions here.
Jackson/Madison County - The county courthouse will be closed for two weeks starting April 1, 2020. The Chancery Court will remain open with limited proceedings, according to the Jackson Sun. Due to workers at the Criminal Justice Complex testing positive for the virus, the circuit court clerk's office has closed and suspended all in-person hearings, the Jackson Sun reports. A memo from Circuit Court Judge Roy B. Morgan Jr. states that hearings will be suspended until the Madison County Sheriff’s Office can develop a plan to “manage the situation.”
Jefferson County Circuit Court - According to court clerk Kevin Poe, parties to cases in Jefferson County are encouraged to utilize the public search option at www.jeffersoncircuit.com to search for cases and check court dates. Dates will be reset if they fall between the restricted dates set by the Supreme Court.
Knox County Chancery, Circuit & Sessions Court Clerks - Clerks’ offices will remain open during regular business hours. Court users are urged to limit their visits and file by mail or fax. Mail checks for any filings that require a payment. Further information is available online or by calling 865-214-2400.
Knox County Circuit Court - Since orders of protection are an exception to the Supreme Court order prohibiting in-person hearings, the court intends to proceed with those cases to the greatest extent possible. Priority will be given to cases that have recently been filed and ex parte orders of protection that have been granted. If not contacted directly by the clerk’s office, petitioners and respondents should call the court clerk the Tuesday before the Thursday their case it set to determine whether it will be heard.
Knox County Criminal Court - The court adopted an order on March 16, 2020, governing its docket for the time period covered by the Tennessee Supreme Court order limiting in-person hearings and set a schedule for presiding judges.
Knox County Juvenile Court - The court will hear emergency cases only. Only the parties to these cases will be permitted in the building and only while their case is being heard. Child support will conduct bond hearings only. There will be no in-person visitations at the detention center. There will not be any evening events or meetings, including no mediation or traffic school. The Foster Care Review Board hearings scheduled for April 7, 2020, have been canceled. The clerk’s office will be operating daily but with limited staff. Child support payments can be made online, by phone at 844-324-3856 or by mail to TN Child Support, P.O. Box 305200, Nashville, TN 37229. Email or call 865-215-6414 with questions about filings or proceedings.
Lookout Mountain Municipal Court - The court clerk’s office is suspending in-person operations but will be available via phone, fax and email during regular business hours. Payments may be made through the mail to P.O. Box 111, Lookout Mountain, TN 37350; by email; or by calling 423-255-6278. Chattanoogan.com has the news.
Marshall County Clerk's Office - The office remains open at this time but individuals are encouraged to call with questions and make payments online instead of in person.
Marshall County General Sessions & Juvenile Court - Judge Lee Bussart issued a letter clarifying that emergency needs, orders of protection, and child protection services cases will continue to be heard. Those who have an emergency case should contact the office at 931-270-8789. Sessions court proceedings scheduled for March 17, 24 & 31, 2020, have been rescheduled for April 15, 2020. Proceedings scheduled for March 26, 2020 have been rescheduled for April 9, 2020. Juvenile court proceedings scheduled for March 16, 2020, have been rescheduled for April 3, 2020.
Marshall County Traffic Court - Proceedings scheduled for March 19, 2020, have been rescheduled for April 16, 2020.
Memphis City Court - The court has announced several changes, including excusing anyone 60 or older from court dates, establishing a missed court docket and altering the dress code to allow face masks, gloves and protective goggles in court. The Daily Memphian has the story. On Aug. 27, 2020, Memphis municipal courts suspended all in-person cases after the high volume of people entering the justice center caused concern about spreading the COVID-19 virus.
Rutherford County Circuit Courts - Circuit court judges in Murfreesboro have directed defendants who were supposed to serve a sentence for non-violent misdemeanor or felony charges or violating probation in April to report 30 days later, the Murfreesboro Post reports.
Shelby County General Sessions Civil Courts - The courts will be closed for in-person hearings from March 13 to March 31, 2020, except those related to mental health cases, which will be held at the Memphis Mental Health Institute as usual. The Daily Memphian reports that civil court cases have been reset for May 4 through May 19, 2020.
Shelby County Criminal Courts - Effective March 16, 2020, general sessions (criminal division) and criminal courts will be resetting court dates for all defendants who are out of custody. The courts will continue to handle certain non-trial matters during this time for defendants who are in custody. New dates were announced on March 16 and published in the Daily Memphian. District Attorney General Amy Weirich announced March 30, 2020, that all April jury trials and court dates for general sessions court (criminal division) and criminal court involving those who currently are not jailed will be canceled. The Commercial Appeal has more. The Daily Memphian reports that criminal court cases in divisions 1-10 have been reset for May 1 to May 18, 2020. UPDATE: In late July, the court ordered the indefinite suspension of criminal jury trials The court plans to start holding jury trials again beginning Oct. 1, 2020, the Commercial Appeal reports.
Shelby County Drug Court - The Daily Memphian reports that drug court cases for April have been reset for May 19 to June 16, 2020.
Shelby County General Sessions Court (criminal) - Criminal Court Judge John Campbell has suspended all bench warrants in General Sessions Court. The Daily Memphian reports that general sessions divisions 7-15 been reset for May 1 to May 18, 2020.
Shelby County Juvenile Court - The court issued an order on March 13, 2020 announcing changes in court procedures through March 31, 2020.
Soddy Daisy City Court - All matters in the city court are canceled for Dec. 8 and 15, 2020, due to public safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 virus, the Chattanoogan reports.
Spring Hill Municipal Court - The city of Spring Hill has closed its municipal court, according to the Tennessean.
Tennessee Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims - Beginning the week of March 23, 2020, each office will perform settlement approvals by phone only. Expedited and compensation hearings and mediation sessions will continue as scheduled. The appeals board oral argument set for March 24, 2020, in Knoxville will take place but will set aside the in-person requirement. Read more from the court. Phone numbers for telephonic settlement approval hearings were posted on March 18, 2020. The court announced on April 23, 2020 that it will continue to hold hearings by phone through the end of May 2020. The court is preparing for the return of in-person hearings and issued guidance on May 11, 2020 for those involved in the proceedings. The court announced it will continue hearing cases by phone in June, July, August, September and October 2020. On Oct. 26, 2002, the court announced it would continue phone proceedings through December 2020.
Tennessee Supreme Court - The court issued an order on March 13, 2020, declaring a state of emergency for the judicial branch. The order suspends all in-person judicial proceedings through March 31 but indicates that all state courts will remain open during the COVID-19 outbreak. The order applies to state and local Tennessee courts, including appellate, trial, general sessions, juvenile and municipal courts. The court issued an order on March 25, 2020, to extend its limitations on in-person proceedings through April 30, 2020, and make other clarifications and updates to its previous order. Read more about those changes. The court also directed the presiding judge of each judicial district to develop a written plan to reduce jail populations. The court issued an order on March 27, 2020, increasing the maximum dollar amount of claims that are exempt from judicial review in the ACAP system for court-appointed counsel. Read more from the court. The court issued an order on March 31, 2020, clarifying deadlines for certain cases. The court issued an order on April 2, 2020, extending the use of electronic signatures during the judicial state of emergency. On April 24, 2020, the court extended deadlines and limits on in-person court proceedings. The order limits in-person proceedings through May 31 and jury trials through July 3, 2020. It also directed the judges in each judicial district to develop a comprehensive written plan to reinstate in-person proceedings. On May 27, 2020, the court extended the state of emergency for the judicial branch until further notice and modified previous orders dealing with in-person proceedings. On Nov. 17, 2020, the court reaffirmed mandatory face coverings requirement and suspended all jury trials through Jan. 31, 2021. The Tennessee Supreme Court issued an order on Dec. 7, 2020, requiring those who enter a courthouse to comply with current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control regarding quarantine and isolation. The Tennessee Supreme Court issued an order on Dec. 22, 2020, to extend a ban on in-person court proceedings through the end of January 2021 and jury trials through the end of February 2021. The court issued an order on Jan. 15, 2021, to extend a ban on in-person court proceedings and jury trials through the end of March 2021. On Feb. 12, 2021, the court set dates for the expiration of current bans in-person proceedings: March 1 for termination of parental rights cases and March 15 for all other proceedings. Jury trials remain suspended through March 31.
Distance Learning CLE Orders - The Tennessee Supreme Court issued an order on March 13, 2020 temporarily suspending Rule 21, sections 3.01(c) and 4.02(c), through March 31, 2020, to allow lawyers to earn all or any portion of required CLE hours for 2019 through approved distance learning. The court issued an order on March 27, 2020, allowing lawyers to earn all or any portion of the required CLE hours for 2020 through approved distance learning. The court issued an order on Dec. 3, 2020, allowing lawyers to earn all or any portion of the required CLE hours for 2021 through approved distance learning.
Bar Exam Orders - The Tennessee Supreme Court entered an order on April 2, 2020, to address concerns with the July 2020 bar exam amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The order extends the amount of time certain applicants will be able to practice pending bar exam results and the expiration of MPRE scores and creates a process to transfer a July 2020 exam application to either a fall exam, if one is scheduled, or the February 2021 exam. On April 17, 2020, the court announced an additional exam will be held Sept. 30 through Oct. 1 2020, in Knoxville. On May 11, the court issued an order regarding administration of the July 2020 bar exam, which will go forward with reduced seating. The order also established a protocol for giving priority seating to certain applicants for the July exam. On July 13, 2020, the Tennessee Supreme Court canceled the in-person bar exam scheduled for Sept. 30 to Oct. 1, 2020. The court instead ordered the Board of Law Examiners to administer an online, remotely-proctored assessment on Oct. 5-6, 2020. Read more about the decision. At the ABA's August 2020 meeting, its House of Delegates recommended the cancellation of all in-person bar exams. On Oct. 23, 2020, the court directed that the February 2021 bar exam be held virtually. On Feb. 16, 2021, the court directed that the June 2021 bar exam be conducted virtually.
BPR Proceedings - The Tennessee Supreme Court issued an order on March 27, 2020 suspending in-person formal proceedings through April 30, 2020; extending through April 30, 2020, any deadlines regarding disciplinary proceedings; and extending through April 30, 2020, the deadlines set forth in Rule 9, Sections 10.4 (bar cards) and 10.5 and 10.6 (non-payment delinquency notices, fees and suspension), as well as Rule 43, Section 15 (IOLTA delinquency notices, fees and suspension). Beginning March 23, 2020, the Board will be operating remotely. On April 4, 2020, the governor issued Executive Order 24 extended the due date of the professional privilege tax from June 1 to July 1. For informal ethics inquiries, please submit online using the informal inquiry form.
Diploma Privilege - A group of law school graduates filed a motion with the court in June requesting it approve "diploma privilege" allowing recent graduates to practice law without taking the bar exam during the COVID pandemic. The court rejected the motion on July 21,2020. A second motion was filed on Sept. 2, 2020, asking the court to reconsider its decision.
Postponement of Execution - Both the court and the governor have postponed executions during the pandemic. These cases include:
• On April 17, 2020, the court delayed the execution of Oscar Franklin Smith from June 4 to Feb. 2021. On Jan. 5, 2021, the court delayed the execution indefinitely.
• On June 12, 2020, the Supreme Court ordered a stay of execution for Byron Black until April 8, 2021. On Dec. 3, 2020, the court indefinitely postponed the execution.
• On July 17, 2020, Gov. Bill Lee delayed the execution of Harold Wayne Nichols from Aug. 4, 2020, to 2021.
• On Nov. 6, 2020, Gov. Bill Lee delayed the execution of Pervis Payne from Dec. 3, 2020, to April 9, 2021.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee - The court issued an order March 16, 2020 that it will remain open for business subject to certain limitations. However, it will postpone any civil or criminal jury trials scheduled between March 16 and April 24, 2020. Grand jury proceedings in Greeneville and Chattanooga will be suspended until April 24, 2020, but the grand jury scheduled for Knoxville on March 17, 2020, will continue as planned. The order also calls for non-essential activities to be canceled and includes limitations on those who can enter the courthouse. The court issued an additional order on March 25, 2020, allowing Criminal Justice Act (CJA) Panel Attorneys to submit interim vouchers for compensation so long as the voucher exceeds $500 and is not submitted within two months of a prior interim voucher in the same matter.
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee - The court issued an order March 16 postponing civil and criminal jury selections, grand jury proceedings and jury trials between March 17-30, 2020. Criminal matters scheduled before magistrate judges will continue to take place but the judge may choose to conduct the proceeding remotely. Individual judges may continue to hold hearings, conferences and bench trials at their discretion. Attorneys or parties who are sick or in a high-risk category can request their case be rescheduled. No public naturalization ceremonies will be held until April 30, 2020. The clerk’s office, U.S. Probation Office and other court services will remain open. In a separate notice, the court announced new policies regarding courthouse access. Get those details here.
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee - The court issued an order March 17, 2020, that continues all civil judicial proceedings currently scheduled until after April 17, 2020; continues all currently scheduled criminal judicial proceedings other than initial appearances, arraignments, bond and detention hearings, and other in-person criminal proceedings presided over by magistrate judges, until after April 17, 2020; and continues until further notice all civil and criminal jury selections and jury trials scheduled to commence now through April 17, 2020. All grand juries already selected will not meet until after April 17, 2020. The court restarted trials at its Jackson location in late Septembers 2020 and plans to restart trials at its Memphis location in October 2020, the Commercial Appeal reports.
U.S. Supreme Court - The court announced it is closing to the public beginning March 12, 2020, at 4:30 p.m. until further notice. All public lectures and visitor programs also are temporarily suspended. However, the building will remain open for official business and case filing deadlines have not been extended. Read more in Bloomberg News. On March 19, 2020, the court extended filing deadlines for cert petitions for 150 days, rather than the usual 90 days, and providing that other extensions may be granted if the pandemic is the reason for the delay and the length of time requested is reasonable. ABA Journal has more. The court has postponed all oral arguments scheduled for its March 2020 session (March 23-25 and March 30-April 1, 2020.). It will hold its regularly scheduled conference on March 20, 2020, and issue its regularly scheduled order list on March 23, 2020. On April 3, 2020, the court postponed its April 2020 argument, SCOTUS Blog reports. On April 13, 2020, the court announced that it will hear May 2020 arguments by telephone, SCOTUSblog reports. In September 2020, the court announced it will hear October 2020 arguments by telephone. In November, the court said it will continue to hear arguments by telephone through at least January 2021, the Associated Press reports.
Virginia State Supreme Court - The court declared a judicial emergency on March 16, 2020, suspending all circuit and district court proceedings and all deadlines for a period of 21 days.
The Washington County Circuit Court - The court clerk recently announced the rescheduling of state general sessions court matters. Proceedings set for November have been postponed to February 2021. Proceedings for December have been postponed to March 2021. Read more about the decision.
Williamson County Traffic Court - On March 12, 2020, Court Clerk Debbie Barrett said traffic court will close for the next two weeks. Those needing to pay fines can do so online or by phone. Those needing another court date should call the clerk's office. The Tennessean had the announcement.