Oklahoma Bar Journal

COVID-19 Deadline Extensions: What Litigators Need to Know

By Alexandra J. Gage

The COVID-19 pandemic brought countless changes to the legal community, including the implementation of numerous deadline extensions granted by the government, courts and various state agencies. By analyzing opinions issued by the courts, attorneys can determine the most efficient arguments to successfully represent their clients and gain a greater understanding of the scope of the extensions granted by the courts.


On March 13, 2020, Gov. Stitt declared a state of emergency in Oklahoma due to the pandemic.1 His executive order directed state agencies to “promulgate any emergency rules necessary to respond to the emergency.”2 In response, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals released three emergency joint orders (SCAD orders) that ultimately created a tolling period for all deadlines from March 16, 2020, to May 15, 2020.3 On May 16, 2020, all deadlines were to be enforced based on the number of days remaining before March 16, 2020.4 Now, over two years after the tolling period ended, courts have begun issuing opinions regarding the scope of those deadline extensions. Most courts in Oklahoma have taken a broad stance on deadline extensions and tolling periods, especially when ruling on dispositive motions.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court released an opinion upholding the tolling periods for all deadlines covered by the SCAD orders in McBee v. Shanahan Home Design, LLC.5 In the case, Ms. McBee filed suit on Nov. 19, 2019. However, service was not made until July 8, 2020. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss for failure to serve within the statutory 180-day limit. The trial court sustained the motion, concluding, “Because the Summons had not been issued prior to the COVID-19 issues that were addressed by the Supreme Court Directives, the directives do not apply.”6 On appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s holding and explained the tolling period in the SCAD orders applied to any deadline in which time would have fallen during the tolling period. Whether summons had been issued was inconsequential. This pushed Ms. McBee’s deadline to July 18, 2020, making service timely.

Henryk Sadura | #7950320 | stock.adobe.com

Like McBee, several lower courts have continued to affirm the tolling period, extending deadlines in both state and federal jurisdictions.7 However, some courts have broadened the deadline extension further beyond the tolling period. Of particular note is McLenithan v. Farmers Ins. Co., Inc., et al. The McLenithans filed a claim with Farmers Insurance under their homeowners insurance policy on July 9, 2020, which was subject to a one-year contractual suit limitation provision. The plaintiffs filed suit Aug. 2, 2021, nearly a month after the one-year deadline in the policy. The SCAD orders, which tolled all deadlines, expired nearly a month before the date of the loss. Therefore, the plaintiffs instead relied on the Oklahoma Insurance Department’s (OID) PC Bulletin No. 2020-01, issued March 20, 2020. That bulletin stated insurance carriers “shall suspend … all policyholder rights or benefits related to deadlines until 90 days after the state of emergency ends.”8 The end of the state of emergency was not announced until May 3, 2021. Thus, the plaintiffs alleged they had 90 days from that date to file suit timely under the insurance agency’s order.

The defendants argued in response that the extension did not apply because the OID bulletin upon which the plaintiffs relied was rescinded June 30, 2020, before the McLenithans’ claim arose.9 Despite the rescission of the OID bulletin and the termination of the SCAD orders prior to the claim, the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, determining the bulletin effectively delayed the plaintiffs’ deadline to 90 days after the state of emergency ended, and the matter was filed within the suit limitation period based on the original OID bulletin’s extension.

The extension granted in McLenithan suggests Oklahoma courts may generally apply a broad interpretation of COVID-19 deadline extensions. On the other hand, Oklahoma courts have also provided some distinction as to the limitations of COVID-19 deadline extensions. In Head v. City of Choctaw, the plaintiff failed to serve the defendant within the 180-day statutory deadline, even when accounting for the SCAD orders’ tolling period.10 In fact, the plaintiff was three months over the deadline.11 After hearing argument on the issue, the judge granted the city of Choctaw’s motion to dismiss, seemingly affirming the untimely service under the SCAD orders.12 This ruling suggests that Oklahoma courts may give leeway for actions that occurred two weeks after a deadline expired – like in McLenithan – but will find a three-month delay unacceptable.

Nevertheless, one exception to Oklahoma’s broad interpretation of COVID-19 deadline extensions stands out. Oklahoma courts have explained that certain constitutional mandates may be exempt from deadline extensions or be held to a stricter standard when analyzing the need for an extension. In re State Question No. 805, Initiative Petition No. 421 stands for the premise that statutory duties imposed by the Oklahoma State Constitution are mandatory and can typically be accomplished while taking necessary safety precautions.13 Proponents of Initiative Petition No. 349 submitted signed petitions to the secretary of state as set forth in Article 5, Section 3 of the Oklahoma State Constitution.14 Accordingly, it is the duty of the secretary of state to file the signed petitions and begin a signature counting process.15 However, the secretary of state expressed concerns that commencing the signature counting process during the pandemic would be impractical while protecting the safety of those involved in the process.16 The court determined the secretary of state could perform the signature counting process in an efficient manner while taking necessary safety precautions, reasoning, “The duties imposed upon the Secretary of State regarding the initiative and referendum is ministerial, and is mandatory.”17 This premise was affirmed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in Kiesel v. Rogers, which dealt with nearly identical issues.18 In both cases, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered the constitutionally mandated actions be accomplished without the need of an extension or delay in the required timelines.


Federal courts apply a slightly more complex analysis in their interpretation of state-supplied tolling periods or extensions due to COVID-19. Before turning to the merits of the issue, federal courts must first determine if state law should be applied. When determining what law applies to an issue, federal courts utilize the Erie doctrine. “Under the Erie doctrine, ‘federal courts apply substantive state law when adjudicating diversity-jurisdiction claims, but in doing so apply federal procedural law to the proceedings.’”19 Therefore, federal courts, in determining issues of state-ordered deadline extensions, analyze whether the deadline extension issues are procedural or substantive.

Federal courts have varied on the issue thus far.20 In Texas, the Eastern District Court determined the issue to be procedural, applying the state-ordered tolling period to the deadlines at issue.21 Likewise, Oklahoma federal courts have found the tolling period was procedural when applied to a statute of limitations deadline.22 In California, however, the federal court found an emergency COVID-19 order, which tolled deadlines from April 27 to May 22, did not apply in federal court because it was “clearly procedural, and the federal, not state, rule applies.”23

Although the federal courts have produced differing opinions nationwide, federal courts in Oklahoma have generally applied state law to the deadlines at issue. For instance, the Barraza v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. court came to a similar conclusion as the McLenithan court on the same issue in a motion to dismiss.24 Arguing that the one-year contractual limitation was extended by the OID bulletin, the plaintiff maintained that his pleading was timely filed within the 90 days after the state of emergency ended. The defendant countered that because the OID bulletin, issued by an Oklahoma agency, was rescinded, the one-year limitation should at most be tolled to the date of rescission rather than the 90 days after the state of emergency. However, the court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, siding with the plaintiff and applying the state agency’s previous order to the deadline.25

State agencies are not the only agencies to provide deadline extensions. Several federal agencies announced deadline extensions as well. For example, on May 4, 2020, the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service issued a joint emergency rule affecting deadlines for HIPPA, ERISA and COBRA.26 A federal court in Nebraska recently discussed the federal deadline extension in Anglim v. Sharp Medical Staffing, LLC.27 The case stems from Ms. Anglim’s termination from Sharp in March 2020. As an employer subject to COBRA requirements, Sharp was statutorily required to provide notice to Ms. Anglim of continued COBRA coverage. Notice was required to be furnished within 44 days of a qualifying event – i.e., Ms. Anglim’s termination. Sharp did not provide the statutory notice until November 2020, nearly eight months after the qualifying event. However, the court determined the notice was timely due to the extension granted by the joint IRS and DOL order. The order provided that COBRA notice requirements would be disregarded until the earlier of one year after the qualifying event or 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 national emergency.28 Such relief was to be made retroactive to March 1, 2020.29 Because of the retroactivity of the order, the Anglim court applied the extension in this case and ruled that notice within eight months of the qualifying event was timely. Ms. Anglim appealed the ruling to the 8th Circuit on Jan. 4, 2022.30 It has yet to be heard.

The joint IRS and DOL order also provided extensions for ERISA claims, benefits and appeals until 60 days after the end of the national emergency. This led to litigation regarding deadlines in Solze v. United of Omaha Life Ins. Co.31 In its opinion, the federal District of Colorado determined the plaintiff’s motion to supplement the administrative record following denial of her ERISA claim was not covered by the joint order. The court noted the order provided relief for claims and appeals but did not provide extra time to supplement the record. Therefore, her timeline to supplement the record would remain unchanged, and her motion was untimely.


In Oklahoma, arguments relying on the SCAD order’s tolling period or a similar state agency deadline extension have seen success. Courts have broadly interpreted deadline extensions and allowed many cases to extend their deadlines based on the orders, bulletins and notices from various agencies. As one might expect, counsel has also found remarkable success in receiving broad extension interpretation when utilizing prior cases that support deadline extensions. For instance, counsel in McLenithan v. Farmers Ins. Co., Inc. utilized two prior federal cases supporting the extension granted by the OID in support of his argument that an extension was warranted in that case, even after the bulletin providing the extension had been rescinded by the OID.32

WavebreakMediaMicro | #75985179 | stock.adobe.com

In situations where there was a delay or issue due to the pandemic that fell outside the scope of the SCAD orders or related state agency orders, attorneys have utilized arguments that COVID-19 affected their ability to timely file, accomplish or complete an action and requested an extension. This has seen little success. Although the courts have provided consistent leeway when it comes to the SCAD orders’ tolling period for set deadlines, most courts have rejected generalized arguments that COVID-19 caused delays in meeting deadlines, particularly in the federal courts. For instance, when counsel in G&G Closed Circuit Events, LLC v. Alvarez argued the COVID-19 pandemic generally “slowed progress” on the case, the Western District pointed out that none of the counsel’s arguments were specifically directed to explaining how he was postponed from meeting the deadline due to the pandemic.33 Similarly, the Western District stated in Gragg v. Roth, “Plaintiff offers no specific reason why COVID-19 caused this particular docketing error … [S]uch generalized assertions involving COVID-19 do not suffice.”34

Still, where generalized arguments of COVID-19 delays have failed, some attorneys have seen success in making generalized arguments when paired with another delaying factor. A cyberattack paired with the COVID-19 pandemic was satisfactory for the court in Cruz v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co.35 The court determined each excuse was ordinarily insufficient on its own.36 However, the party “suffered a one-two punch consisting of a cyberattack and an international pandemic with real life changes within weeks of each other … Accordingly, the Court will allow the extension.”37

Other 10th Circuit courts rejected such generalized arguments as well. The plaintiff in Liming Wu v. Zinke argued she missed a filing deadline because of inadequate medical care and treatment due to the pandemic.38 The court specified that her argument was not supported by any explanation as to how the pandemic caused her to miss the filing deadline.39 Her argument was rejected, and the court failed to find good cause for her extension of time.40

In summary, courts are wary of providing deadline extensions for generalized COVID-19 delays. If one plans to argue for an extension due to COVID-19 delays, one should always utilize specific information to explain exactly how the pandemic affected the timeliness of the action. By providing detailed accounts of COVID-19’s impact on the case, the attorney can more efficiently persuade the court to understand why a worthy cause exists for an extension outside the prescribed tolling periods.

Further, a litigator arguing a deadline extension would best serve their client by determining if there is any extension applied to the time period from any agency. Since courts have been lenient in extending deadlines provided by state and federal agency orders, a litigator should research every agency that may influence the case to determine if a deadline extension was granted by that agency. The Department of Insurance, Supreme Court, Department of Labor, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy are just a few examples of the many agencies that provided some type of COVID-19 deadline relief.41 Litigators should also pay attention to what is specifically being extended. Some agencies provided extensions only for very specific deadlines that could not be effectively accomplished during the pandemic. Be sure to explore every possible interpretation of its limitations to best frame your arguments.


The COVID-19 deadline extensions provided by state and federal agencies open the door for future extensions due to world or even local events. Although the pandemic affected deadlines on a wide scale, it is possible these types of extensions could become more common throughout various sections of the law as emergencies arise. Litigators need to be aware of the courts’ responses to these deadline extensions and how they affect their clients in every area of law. COVID-19 deadline extensions can be an important factor in the success or failure of a litigator’s case and should be thoroughly investigated in future cases.

Editor’s note: This article was previously published by Doerner, Saunders, Daniel & Anderson LLP. Reprinted with permission.



Alexandra J. Gage is a litigation attorney for Doerner, Saunders, Daniel & Anderson LLP. She focuses her practice on matters involving employment, insurance, contracts and commercial litigation. She is most experienced in insurance defense, representing high-profile insurance companies in complex bad faith litigation and breach of contract actions.



  1. Exec. Off. of the Governor, Executive Order 2020-07 (March 13, 2020).
  2. Id.
  3. First Emergency Joint Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster, SCAD 2020-24 (Okla. 2020), 2020 OK 25, 462 P.3d 704; Second Emergency Joint Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster, SCAD No. 2020-29, 2020 OK 24, 462 P.3d 262; Third Emergency Joint Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster, SCAD No. 2020-36 (Okla. 2020), 2020 OK 23, 462 P.3d 703.
  4. Id.
  5. McBee v. Shanahan Home Design, LLC, 2021 OK 60, 499 P.3d 1.
  6. Id. at ¶9.
  7. Memorandum Opinion and Order, Smith v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., CIV-21-660-C, (W.D. Okla. July 27, 2021); Order, Talley v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., CIV-21-682-F, (W.D. Okla. Aug. 9, 2021); Barraza v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 2021 WL 4139142, (N.D. Okla. Sept. 10, 2021); Order on Mot. to Dismiss, McLenithan v. Farmers Ins. Co., Inc., et al., CJ-2021-37 (Craig Cnty. Dist. Ct., Dec. 7, 2021).
  8. PC Bulletin 2020-01, March 20, 2020.
  9. PC Bulletin 2020-01 (#3), June 18, 2020.
  10. See Def.’s Special Appearance & Mot. to Dismiss, Head v. City of Choctaw, CJ-2019-6526 (Okla. Cnty. Dist. Ct., Dec. 4, 2020).
  11. Id.
  12. Journal Entry, Head v. City of Choctaw, CJ-2019-6526 (Okla. Cnty. Dist. Ct., March 12, 2021).
  13. In re State Question No. 805, Initiative Petition No. 421, 2020 OK 45, 473 P.3d 466.
  14. Id. at ¶2, 473 P.3d at 466.
  15. Id.
  16. Id. at ¶5, 473 P.3d at 467.
  17. Id. at ¶6, 473 P.3d at 467.
  18. Kiesel v. Rogers, 2020 OK 65, 470 P.3d 294. In Kiesel, the proponents of the initiative sought to delay the signature gathering time frame due to pandemic safety concerns. Citing In re State Question No. 805, the court determined the secretary of state’s duty to set a 90-day signature gathering time frame was mandatory and could be performed while taking necessary precautions.
  19. Allen v. Sherman Operating Co., LLC, 520 F. Supp. 3d. 854, 859 (E.D. Tex. 2021) (quoting Cates v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 928 F.2d 679, 687 (5th Cir. 1991)).
  20. See Argueta v. City of Galveston, 2021 WL 137664 (S.D. Tex.); Lewis v. City of Edmond, 2021 WL 6275174 (W.D. Okla.); In re Herman, 2020 WL 5351944 (C.D. Calif.); Allen v. Sherman Operating Co., LLC, 520 F. Supp. 3d. 854 (E.D. Tex. 2021).
  21. Argueta v. City of Galveston, 2021 WL 137664 (S.D. Tex.).
  22. Lewis v. City of Edmond, 2021 WL 6275174 (W.D. Okla.).
  23. In re Herman, 2020 WL 5351944 (C.D. Calif.).
  24. Barraza v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 2021 WL 4139142, (N.D. Okla. Sept. 10, 2021).
  25. Id.
  26. Extension of Certain Timeframes for Employee Benefit Plans, Participants, and Beneficiaries Affected by the COVID-19 Outbreak, 85 FR 26351-01 (May 4, 2020).
  27. 2021 WL 5741961 (D. Neb. Dec. 2, 2021).
  28. Extension of Certain Timeframes for Employee Benefit Plans, Participants, and Beneficiaries Affected by the COVID-19 Outbreak, 85 FR 26351-01 (May 4, 2020).
  29. Id.
  30. Notice of Appeal, 8:21-CV-00171-BCB (8th Cir. Jan. 4, 2022).
  31. Solze v. United of Omaha Life Ins. Co., 2022 WL 618029 (D. Colo. Feb. 7, 2022).
  32. See Pl.’s Resp. & Obj. to Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss, McLenithan v. Farmers Ins. Co., Inc., et al., CJ-2021-37 (Craig Cnty. Dist. Ct., Dec. 7, 2021).
  33. 2021 WL 5918560 (W.D. Okla., March 22, 2021).
  34. 2021 WL 5992287, *1 (W.D. Okla., Feb. 12, 2021).
  35. 2020 WL 1929405 (D.N.M., April 21, 2020).
  36. Id. at *2.
  37. Id.
  38. 2020 WL 3035154, *2 (D.N.M. June 5, 2020).
  39. Id.
  40. Id.
  41. PC Bulletin 2020-01, March 20, 2020; Extension of Certain Timeframes for Employee Benefit Plans, Participants, and Beneficiaries Affected by the COVID-19 Outbreak, 85 FR 26351-01 (May 4, 2020); Third Emergency Joint Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster, SCAD No. 2020-36 (Okla. 2020), 2020 OK 23, 462 P.3d 703; Extension for COVID-19 Forbearance and COVID-19 Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) Extension, HUD 2021-24, Sept. 27, 2021; NIFA Deadline Extensions due to COVID-19, March 17, 2020; Accommodating Interruptions from Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Dept. of Energy, March 13, 2020.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 93 Vol 6 (August 2022)