USING MEDIATION TO MANAGE CASES DURING COVID-19
The pandemic has suspended civil jury trials and many nonjury civil trials have been delayed as the courts implement social distancing and capacity limits while prioritizing necessary emergency proceedings. While courts have embraced technology and thousands of virtual hearings and proceedings have taken place across the state, delays are inevitable in this unprecedented year.
Under the Plan, the ADRC has partnered with three community mediation centers across the state and developed an expedited and efficient way to handle court referrals or orders for mediation.
What Cases Should Be Considered For Mediation
The Plan applies to all pending civil actions in general sessions courts, juvenile courts, chancery courts, and circuit courts. Judges are encouraged to review their dockets and refer any cases to mediation that may benefit from this new program. Recognizing that many people are facing economic hardships because of the pandemic, mediation will be provided at no cost to indigent parties who are not represented by an attorney.
In referring cases to mediation, judges are encouraged to give top priority to cases with parties not represented by attorneys. Under the plan, a judge may request that the parties use mediation, order the parties to mediation, or decide the case is not appropriate for mediation. The types of civil cases that may benefit from mediation include: evictions, family disputes, medical debt claims, juvenile matters, personal loans, contract breach, and recovery of personal property. Criminal cases are not included because defendants have a constitutional right to “confront their accuser.”
The ADRC developed the Plan after a survey of the state’s judges indicated a growing backlog of cases in the areas of family, evictions, small claims and juvenile matters. A majority of the judges expressed their willingness to involve Rule 31 mediators in addressing these cases where appropriate.
How Mediations Will Be Conducted
Mediation will be conducted following Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 and by Rule 31 approved mediators. The Plan provides judges, court clerks, and mediators sample documents for referring a case to mediation, communicating with the parties, and informing the court of the status of the mediation. Mediation is a confidential process and does not influence the outcome of a case if unsuccessful. The mediations under the Plan will be conducted virtually, unless otherwise agreed upon by the parties involved.
To ensure the process is efficient, the Plan sets out specific timelines and deadlines for the mediation process. Under the Plan, each county has been assigned a community mediation center, which will triage requests for mediation assistance from the courts. Trained mediators are volunteering to provide these services and will be trained and deployed as needed. If a judge refers or orders a case to mediation, the parties will hear directly from the mediation center to begin the scheduling and mediation process.
The three Community Mediation Centers that will coordinate resources and location details with all medication centers in the state are: The Mid-South Community Justice & Mediation Center, Inc. in Memphis, the Nashville Conflict Resolution Center, and the Community Mediation Center in Knoxville.