The Revised Birmingham Differential Case Management Plan and the Revised Standard Scheduling Order
by J. SCOTT VOWELL, PRESIDING CIRCUIT JUDGE
JANUARY 2009Revised Differential Case Management Plan (PDF)
The Civil Division of the Circuit Court, Birmingham, has managed its docket since 1990 under a case management system known as the Birmingham Differential Case Management Plan (the Plan). We have recently made significant revisions to the Plan and this article is written to inform the Bar about the changes.
In 1989, Chief Justice Sonny Hornsby appointed a committee of leading Birmingham judges, lawyers and administrators to address the serious backlog of civil cases in the Birmingham Division. Their solution was the adoption of the Plan, which became effective for all CV cases on October 1, 1990. Prior to the adoption of the Plan, a Master Calendar System was used. Under that system, CV cases were not assigned to a specific judge until the case was sent out for trial. Pre-trial motions in all cases were heard by the Presiding Judge at a general motion docket. A civil case was not set for trial until the parties filed a Certificate of Readiness. As a result, some cases sat on the pending docket with no action for lengthy periods of time. If a case was set for trial, the setting did not reflect the age of the case, its complexity or its management needs. The result of that system was that there was little or no judicial involvement in the management of a case until the case was called for trial.
Under the adopted Plan, as soon as a case is commenced by filing the complaint with the Circuit Clerk, it is randomly assigned to a Circuit Judge and that Judge is responsible for the management of the case until its final disposition. The Court intervenes in the case early, as soon as all parties have responded to the complaint. The judge assigns the case to an appropriate "track" and an early Status Conference is conducted. At the initial Status Conference, after an evaluation by judge and counsel of the complexity of the case, an appropriate Scheduling Order is entered in each case and this Order controls the management of the case until final judgment. The Scheduling Order usually assigns the case a trial date and the judges have established a firm and consistent policy for minimizing continuances. The Plan recognizes that all civil cases are not alike. The time for trial preparation, the amount and type of court intervention, and the appropriate trial setting must vary from case to case.
We have operated under the Plan for 18 years and it has succeeded beyond expectation. On October 1, 1990, there were 13,806 pending CV cases in Birmingham and the average number of days from filing to disposition was 678.48 days. On October 1, 2008, there were 7,038 pending CV cases and the average number of days from filing to disposition has been cut in half to 328.89 days.
There have been many changes in the practice of law since 1990, but our Plan has not been modified since it was instituted. One of the major changes in the system has been the conversion to electronic filing. This year is only our second year of accepting electronically filed complaints and over half of our new cases filed in 2008 have been filed electronically. To deal with these and other changes, last year I named a new Committee to study the Plan and to propose needed revisions. We have had input from the Bench and the Bar and the Birmingham Bar Association’s Civil Procedures Committee has been especially helpful. The revisions have been unanimously approved by the Circuit Judges in the Birmingham Civil Division. The fundamentals of the Plan are unchanged, but it has been made more relevant to current litigation practice.
In an effort to achieve consistency among our eleven civil judges, about five years ago the Judges in the Civil Division agreed to use a Standard Scheduling Order. We were able to craft an Order which was acceptable to everyone and the use of a uniform order has been a welcomed change. It avoids the traps for lawyers when different judges establish slightly different technical filing requirements. In conjunction with the revision of the Plan, another committee was appointed to review and revise the Standard Scheduling Order. The revisions to the Order, with appendices, have also been unanimously approved by the Circuit Judges and are now in use. Both the Revised Birmingham Differential Case Management Plan and the Revised Standard Scheduling Order are attached hereto. They are also available at the Birmingham Bar website: http://www.birminghambar.org.
Please carefully study these important documents and circulate them among your colleagues. We will continue to review the Plan and solicit your suggestions for further improvements. We believe that adherence to the Revised Birmingham Differential Case Management Plan and the Revised Uniform Scheduling Order will continue to improve the services provided to the people of Alabama by your Judiciary.
For further information contact:
Tyler Holt, Esq.
Law Clerk for Judge J. Scott Vowell
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, Alabama 35203