Complaints and Lawsuits Grind to a Halt as Shutdown Continues, Federal Court Funding About to Run Out
Media reports abound on the impact of the shutdown—now the longest in U.S. history—on federal workers, recipients of certain services such as food stamps and tax refunds, and the political leaders facing blame for the situation. But one less obvious impact of the shutdown is that federal administrative matters and court cases have begun to grind to a halt as federal agencies and courts begin to run out of funding. Parties in administrative matters before open agencies should continue with business as usual. Parties in civil lawsuits not involving the federal government should continue to meet court deadlines unless the shutdown continues past Friday when the federal courts will run out of funding. Once the shutdown ends, all parties should be prepared for readjustment pains as the courts and agencies attempt to balance completing work that was delayed during the shutdown and new matters as they arise.
Work on complaints in federal agencies is progressing more slowly or stopping completely. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and National Labor Relations Board are both closed, while other agencies, such as the Department of Labor and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights are partially or fully open. As the Washington Post recently reported, although currently work on federal court cases in which the United States is a party has slowed or ceased, the shutdown delays will eventually impact almost all federal civil cases. The timeline for the federal courts to run out of funding has been a moving target but is now identified as this Friday, January 25. Past that point, it is likely that all civil cases will be impacted as the federal courts begin to handle only “essential” matters, such as criminal trials.
Even once the government is back up and running, the impacts are likely to continue. Agencies and courts will need to reschedule hearings, briefing deadlines, and other matters delayed by the shutdown while also juggling new cases and matters coming in. Particularly where federal agencies and courts are more congested now than ever, these changes are likely to be felt in pending and new cases for some time to come.