NEW JERSEY COVID-19 IMPACT UPDATES - Hladik Onorato & Federman, LLP

The most recent COVID-19 response measures taken by the executive, legislative and judicial branches in New Jersey as of May 25, 2020.
Hladik, Onorato & Federman, LLP, is operating and continues to dedicate its staff and technological resources to ensure minimal impact on delivery of services to its clients. In addition, we want to share with our clients and colleagues the most recent COVID-19 response measures taken by the executive, legislative and judicial branches in New Jersey as of May 25, 2020.  Each week this situation continues, we have seen and will see constantly pivoting policy and legal changes that impact our clients and other default law firms.
New Jersey has been one of the hardest hit jurisdictions by COVID-19 with approximately 153,000 confirmed cases and 11,081 deaths at the time of this writing.  Coupled with a foreclosure rate (1 in every 1,457 housing units in February 2020) ranked highest in the nation, there has been an increased scrutiny and focus on protecting the state's vulnerable citizens.
State Courts:
Most New Jersey county courts (vicinages) remain closed to the public except for enumerated emergent matters.  The most up to date information on court closures can be found here.
All county sheriff's offices are closed entirely or operating on a reduced staff and schedule.  Many of those offices have indefinitely postponed sales that were scheduled in May.  Very few are accepting new writs of execution or are otherwise schedule future sales.
On March 17, 2020, the Supreme Court of New Jersey entered an Order postponing all non-emergent in-person court proceedings.  Discovery deadlines were relaxed and extended.  Lastly, the computation of time for all periods under the rules, including statutes of limitation, were tolled from March 16 to March 27.
On March 19, 2020, the legislature passed Assembly Bill 3859 and Senate Bill 2276 granting a governor the authority during a declared state of emergency to place a moratorium on removing individuals from residential property.  Contemporaneously, Governor Murphy signed the bills into law and issued Executive Order 106, which allows eviction and foreclosure cases to be initiated and continued, but prohibits sheriffs, court officers or other agents from evicting tenants or removing individuals post-foreclosure.
On March 21, 2020, Governor Murphy issued Executive Order 107 directing all residents to stay home and forcing all non-essential businesses, including law firms, to accommodate their employees for telework or work-from-home.
On March 27, 2020, the Supreme Court of New Jersey issued an Omnibus Order amending and extending the guidance provided in its March 17, 2020 Order.  Specifically, where practicable, all hearing, conference and arguments will be conducted by video or phone conference.  Furthermore, the Office of Foreclosure will not review or recommend motions or judgments received on or after March 1, 2020 pending further court order.
On March 29, 2020, Governor Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance announced a commitment from over 40 lenders, credit unions and servicers to provide additional financial relief to consumers and homeowners in New Jersey.  Although not mandatory, the relief includes a 90-day grace on mortgage payments, waiver of fees or charges, no new foreclosures or evictions for 60 days, and no negative credit reporting for missed or late payments.  A list of the participating lenders can be found here.
As of April 1, 2020 all servicers (or their responsible vendors, including law firms) must upload a copy of all Notices of Intention to Foreclose on residential property through the Department of Community Affairs's portal located here.  If you or your vendors have questions, our office would happy to provide insight and assistance with this process.
On April 20, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court entered an Order on the use of remote proceedings by phone and video.
On April 24, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme issued its Second Omnibus Notice and Order resuming major court functions and expanding the use of “virtual operations” by telephone and video court events.  The Court also extended its previous Order on discovery for civil matters through May 10, 2020.  The Court provided that a party may request a suspension of proceedings or other reasonable deadline extensions upon request by letter.
On May 15, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a Notice and Order clarifying its April 24th Second Omnibus Order. Specifically, as it relates to foreclosures, the Court states in its Notice that “The Office of Foreclosure will continue to review and recommend non-dispositive motions (e.g. motions to substitute plaintiff, motion to enter default, motion for surplus funds and motions to correct defendant), but will not recommend judgments or dispositive motions received on or after March 1 2020 pending further court order.”  As such, Motions for Final Judgment can be filed, but final judgements will still not presently be entered in New Jersey.
Federal Courts:
District Court of New Jersey—The Court is now open to the public on a limited basis.  On May 22, 2020, Chief District Judge Wolfson entered two standing orders.  The first Order requires face coverings and social distancing for entry and occupancy of the courthouses of the district by the public.  The second Order postpones all criminal and civil jury trials until after August 31, 2020.  All discovery deadlines extended by prior Orders will remain in effect; however, there will be no further extensions.  All other rules and operations will continue regularly unless previously addressed by a prior standing Order.
United States Bankruptcy Court-District of New Jersey—On May 1, 2020 Chief Judge Kaplan entered two General Orders addressing the CARES Act and court operations within the district.  The Court will remain open with limited in-person staffing.  All trials scheduled prior to May 31, 2020 have been or will be postponed.  All contested motions will be heard on the papers, unless oral argument is requested and permitted by the court.  The Court also will resume dismissal of cases (where appropriate) after June 1, 2020.  As for treatment of the CARES Act, the Court has adopted a mandatory local form Notice to be utilized by creditors to notify the Court of any approved mortgage forbearance.  The Order also set forth the process for objection to and enforcement of said Notice.