The Judicial Council by circulating order approved temporary emergency rule #12, requiring attorneys to electronically serve and receive notices and documents in all general civil actions and family and probate proceedings if requested to do so by the other party. The rule will stay in effect through 90 days after the Governor declares that the state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic is lifted, or when amended or repealed by the council.

While electronic service is already permitted, parties must consent to such delivery unless a court has ordered it. Attorneys have reported that during this pandemic, some parties refuse to agree to electronic service and insist on serving and being served by mail. The new temporary rule makes it mandatory for represented parties but only voluntary for self-represented litigants.

Among the civil actions not covered under this new service rule (because they are not general civil cases defined in California Rules of Court, rule 1.6) are small claims proceedings; unlawful detainer proceedings; and petitions to prevent civil harassment, elder abuse, and workplace violence. The rule doesn’t cover these actions because they often involve self-represented litigants. But parties in exempt cases can still agree to accept electronic service.

The rule does not apply in cases where parties are already required by court order or local court rule to provide or accept notices and documents by electronic service, and is not intended to prohibit electronic service in cases not addressed by this rule.

The council did not circulate this proposed emergency rule for comment due to the urgent nature of the pandemic and need to protect litigants’ rights while considering the health and safety of parties, counsel, and the public.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the council has already approved a number of temporary emergency measures and enacted 11 other temporary rules of court. Temporary emergency rule #12 has been added as an Appendix I of the California Rules of Court.

For a complete list of temporary emergency actions taken by the California court system in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, see the California Courts Newsroom.