Using the ADA to secure a Continuance for Clients with Health or Mental Health Issues
Pursuant to California Rules of Court 3.1332(c), although continuances of trials are disfavored, each request for a continuance must be considered on its own merits. Circumstances that will indicate good cause for a continuance include: “a party’s excused inability to obtain essential testimony, documents, or other material evidence despite diligent efforts." Furthermore, California Rules of Court 1.100 provides that persons with disabilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (which includes all mental illnesses classified by the DSM-IV as well as diagnosable physical maladies) must be afforded accommodations to allow them to be effectively represented in civil trials. In fact, a trial court can only deny a request for such an accommodation if the applicant fails to provide evidence of a disability, if the requested accommodation would create an undue financial burden on the court, or the requested accommodation would fundamentally alter the nature of the services provided by the court. In a recent case, a woman who suffered from bi-polar depression and several additional physical maladies including lymphoma requested a continuance of trial because she was too ill to adequately prepare. The party submitted a request for a continuance which was supported by a declaration of her treating psychiatrist, confirming that the party suffered from a long-term mental illness, the symptoms of which prevented her from preparing for trial. Although the trial court denied the request for a continuance, the Court of Appeal in Marriage of James M. and Christine J.C. (2008) 158 Cal.App.4th 1261, held that the trial court erred when it denied the party’s request for a continuance of trial due to her unstable mental and physical condition. And, in footnote 4 of the opinion, the Court of Appeal made it clear that although a “continuance" was not one of the enumerated accommodations available to litigants pursuant to CRC Rule 1.100, that said list was “not exhaustive." The Court further opined that a trial continuance was an appropriate accommodation under the circumstances.