Last week, the Davidson County General Sessions Court entered an Administrative Order that limited the number of cases that can be set on the civil dockets in Courtrooms 1A & 1B, with a cap of 25 cases per day (effective October 5, 2020).
That sounds like a lot of cases. It is not.
A typical General Sessions civil docket might have 50 to 100 cases on the docket. Davidson County has civil dockets every day of the week.
By my math, this represents a minimum 75% cut in capacity.
Granted, when I first heard about the 25 case limit, it didn’t sound like too much of a problem, since I don’t have a high volume consumer or residential eviction practice. The high volume lawyers who routinely have 25 of their own cases on each docket would be the ones with the problem, right?
Then, I got a call from a commercial landlord whose tenant hasn’t paid rent since March and has “gone dark.” The landlord asked me to get a judgment for possession as soon as possible.
Spoiler-alert: The 25 case limit is a problem.
Due to the emergency nature of my matter, I personally went to the Clerk’s office to file this eviction lawsuit, thinking that: (1) if I went in person, maybe I’d have a better shot at getting a hearing date in the next few weeks (i.e. around October 15 or so); and (2) if there had been a rush on court dates, I’d be more likely to find a solo spot for my “one” case (sort of like how it’s easier to get one solo ticket to a nearly sold out concert).
At the Clerk’s office, though, I was in for a shock. The best available dockets were for late November and, to be safe, I should pick a date in December.
Hearing my client’s screams in my head, I asked if there was anything for a single, solitary case. After some digging, there was a tiny chance I could get an earlier date.
There was one slot available in early November, but it was unlikely I’d get it, since new returns on service were being filed every hour and also cases being heard on that day’s dockets were being reset as we speak.
Plus, the Clerk can’t set a hearing until after the summons was served and returned to the Clerk, so I had lots of work to do and no way to hold that spot while I did it.
But (again, hearing the client’s screams), I looked at my Summons and wondered if I could get it all done before somebody got my docket slot.
Maybe I could. Since my defendant was just a 20 minute drive away (and had a registered agent), I ran to my car, speed to the registered agent’s address, and served the process myself. But, the race wasn’t over, since–in order to get the court date set in stone–I had to file the served summons with the Clerk (and before anybody else filed their returned service for that date). So, I raced back downtown, parked, and sprinted to the Clerk’s Office to claim my coveted spot (which I got, by the way).
I was sweaty and ecstatic that I was able to get a hearing date, but, still, it was more than a month away.
Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why the Court system is limiting the number of matters that can be heard on a docket. It’s a global pandemic involving a deadly, highly-communicable disease. Less people in the courtroom means less risk.
But, having said that, some really big matters get filed in General Sessions Court, and there needs to be some sort of safety valve to protect plaintiffs with matters that can’t wait 30 or 60 or 90 days (but, yeah, good luck telling any plaintiff that their matter can wait).
Given the scope of this drastic cut in capacity, the available dockets in 2020 are being absolutely flooded, and, soon, the General Sessions Courts will have no availability left for the remainder of the year.
This is going to be a problem.