Effective February 1, 2021, significant changes have been made to the Uniform Rules for the Supreme Court and the County Court. Many of these new rules have been specifically adapted from the Commercial Division, which was described as an “efficient, sophisticated, up-to-date court.” Below you will find brief explanations of some of these new rules.
Many of the changes are meant to greatly increase the efficiency of the courts and they do so in several different ways. For example, amendments to § 202.1 specifically require counsel to be prepared and on time to all appearances. Courts may also allow for staggered court appearances under § 202.23, in order to “increase efficiency and decrease lawyers’ time waiting for a matter to be called.” Under this new section, counsel may be assigned a set time or time interval for their appearance and each counsel is responsible for ensuring all other counsel on the matter is aware of the scheduled time. Moreover, the addition of § 202.20-e codifies the requirement that counsel strictly comply with discovery obligations. A failure to comply may result in preclusion at trial.
Some of the changes are aimed at bringing the courts “up-to-date” by allowing for electronic communication, something that has become increasingly necessary due to the pandemic. Pursuant to § 202.5-a, titled Filing by Electronic Transmission, papers and correspondence may now be filed via fax with the permission of the court, and the addition of § 202.8-f, titled Oral Argument, allows the court to conduct oral argument by electronic means.
Several of the new rules seek to streamline trials. Under § 202.37, prior to the commencement of trial, each party will need to put in writing the identity, order, and estimated length of testimony for all witnesses it intends to call. In a non-jury trial, the court may require direct testimony of the witnesses in the form of an affidavit pursuant to § 202.20-i. Further, under § 202.34, counsel should attempt to agree upon the exhibits and mark them prior to trial. Pursuant to § 202.20-h, counsel for each side should also submit a pre-trial memorandum along with an indexed binder, notebook, or electronic equivalent of trial exhibits.
Other changes encourage, or enforce, more communication with the court and opposing counsel. Whereas § 202.28 previously required defense counsel to notify the court of any discontinued action within 20 days, amendments to the section now require any party to immediately inform the court of any discontinued action via telephone or email, in addition to filing a stipulation. In addition to the old rules directing communication, there are many new ones, like § 202.23 which requires counsel to consult prior to any preliminary or compliance conference. Another new rule, § 202.20-a, titled Privilege Logs, requires counsel to continuously confer throughout the case, discuss privilege review, and memorialize all agreements in a court order. Under §202.20-f, counsel is encouraged to resolve all discovery disputes through informal procedures and a good faith effort is required before counsel can contact the court for assistance.
In another attempt to increase efficiency, the Order implements new rules that limit discovery. In § 202.20, interrogatories are limited to twenty-five, and this includes subparts.
Depositions are also limited to ten per party and seven hours per deponent under § 202.20-b. Moreover, the deposition of an entity through one or more representatives is treated as a single deposition and, thus, limited to seven hours.
Many of the remaining changes deal with the content of your papers. For example, additions to § 202.5 require that every paper filed with the court, other than exhibits or a printed form, be submitted on 8.5 x 11-inch paper and contain print no smaller than 12-point with margins no smaller than 1 inch. A new subsection also requires bookmarks providing a list of the document’s contents for every electronically-submitted memorandum of law, affidavit or affirmation that exceeds 4500 words. Moreover, § 202.8-b specifies that affidavits, affirmations, briefs, and memoranda should be limited to 7000 words each and replies limited to 4200, although the court may allow you to exceed these limits. This new section also requires counsel to include a page at the end of each document certifying the exact number of words.
Aside from the technical specifications, new rules will also impact the substance of your submissions. Among other requirements, § 202.8-a requires that movants specify the exact relief sought, submit copies of all necessary pleadings and documents, and include a proposed order with the motion where appropriate. Specifically geared towards motions for summary judgment, § 202.8-g requires counsel to annex a short statement including the material facts not in dispute, followed by a citation to evidence. In opposing such a motion, counsel must include a corresponding statement specifically controverting anything to which a genuine dispute exists or risk having it deemed admitted. Lastly, § 202.20-c requires each response to a request for documents to state either that the production is made as requested or the grounds for any objection. This new section also requires each response to state whether any documents are being withheld, the basis for each objection, and the manner in which the scope may be limited.
Whether it be an amendment to an existing rule or a new rule altogether, these changes to the Uniform Rules intend to increase the overall efficiency of the court system in many ways. The Order makes clear that by modeling the rules after those of the Commercial Division, the courts themselves are aiming to become more cost-effective, predictable, and fair.