On May 29, 2020, the Judicial Council of California issued a Circulating Order to amend its earlier-issued Emergency Rule 9 in order to shorten the time for tolling statutes of limitations for all civil causes and provide a fixed date, including for causes of action arising under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and State planning and zoning laws. Under the amended Emergency Rule 9, the tolling period for civil actions with limitations periods that are less than 180 days—which includes most CEQA and planning and zoning law claims—expires on August 3, 2020. This clarifies and dramatically reduces the time within which complaining parties must file civil litigation to challenge most CEQA and related land use approvals.
As we noted earlier, on April 6, 2020, the Judicial Council of California issued Emergency Rules to address impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the judicial branch. This included Emergency Rule 9, which tolled the time to file any type of civil litigation from April 6, 2020, to until 90 days after the Governor lifts the state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. This created enormous uncertainty related to land use matters and CEQA actions, as the time to file such challenges is unusually short (30 to 90 days) and it is entirely unclear when the Governor might lift the state of emergency. Emergency Rule 9 threatened to extend the limitations periods for CEQA and land use claims by months.