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Georgia Federal Court Among the First to Restrict Applicability of Georgia COVID Emergency Orders Extending Statutes of Limitations

Posted on: June 4th, 2021

By: Wayne Melnick and Carlos Fernandez

The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the roll of most, if not all, cases. Now that the brakes are being slowly eased-off, questions are arising about the Georgia Supreme Court’s Emergency Orders that extended the statute of limitations deadlines. A new case from the Middle District of Georgia interpreted the Emergency Orders finding the 122-day stay of statutes of limitations only applied to cases whose limitations deadline fell during that 122-day period.  As a result, the Court dismissed the plaintiff’s case as barred by the statute of limitations.

On November 1, 2018, the plaintiff was cleaning a machine when it suddenly restarted, and the blades mangled his left hand. Plaintiff timely filed suit against one party and then after the statute of limitations ran, without objection and with the Court’s leave, the plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint on January 19, 2021 naming a new party defendant.  In its motion to dismiss, the new defendant argued that the complaint could not be amended as the statute of limitations ran on November 1, 2020. Although the plaintiff argued that the Emergency Orders added 122 days to all statutes of limitations and the amended complaint was filed within 122 days of the expiration of the limitation, the District Court disagreed, finding the Emergency Orders did not grant a 122-day bonus extension to all cases, but rather only applied to deadlines that ran in the period between March 14 through July 14, 2020.  Determining that the Emergency Orders only applied to extend time for cases whose statute of limitations ran during that 122-day period, the Court held it was “simply unreasonable” to grant every plaintiff an extension regardless of when their statute of limitations ran.

This ruling is important for all attorneys and claims representatives handling claims and cases in Georgia. Now, at least one court has made clear that not all claims or cases may benefit from the 122 extra days provided by the Emergency Orders. Rather, those Emergency Orders only apply to cases whose deadlines fell within that time period.  Defense attorneys should be mindful of this ruling and seek to dismiss any case attempting to take advantage of these Emergency Orders when otherwise not entitled.  We will continue to monitor developments and rulings related to the interpretation of the Emergency Orders as we expect this ruling to be appealed.

Update: June 21, 2021 – On June 6, 2021, the order in this case was vacated because the parties stipulated to substitute the relevant parties from the Motion to Dismiss. While this order can no longer be relied on as authority, it should also be looked at as a measuring stick for the Middle District of Georgia’s, and potentially other districts, outlook on adding 122 days to all statute of limitation deadlines. Most importantly, the rationale presented in the order is still valid and practitioners should consider advancing the same arguments if the proper case presents itself.

If you would like a copy of this case, Owens v. Perdue Farms, Inc., please contact Wayne S. Melnick at [email protected] or Carlos A. Fernandez at [email protected] directly.

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