Civil Law 101-How a civil case moves through the court system
A civil case is when you are asking the court to order another person, or a business to pay you money, or to do something. Other types of cases are family cases, involving issues between married people, or concerning children, and criminal cases where someone is charged with a crime, those cases follow different procedures and timelines. To try to get money from someone else, or make them do something you sue the other person or business by filing a civil lawsuit against them. Minnesota is one of a minority of states where most civil cases are started by giving the papers to the other side, called serving, and then filing with the court with proof that the other side has been served. I get many calls from people saying that they got court papers that they say are bogus because there is no court file number on them. That is not true, it is normal for court papers to not have a file number on them when they are served as they have not been filed yet.
After they are served they are filed with the court, the court then opens a file and assigns a file number. If someone is served with a lawsuit they need to file what is called an Answer within 20 days, if they do not do that they risk being found in default, meaning the other side gets what they are asking for. From filing to a trial takes a long time, close to a year on average. About two months after filing the court has the first hearing called a Scheduling Conference. The conference is what the name suggests, for scheduling the trial and setting other deadlines. In most cases mediation will be ordered, where both sides sit down with a neutral mediator to try to reach an agreement. In most cases information is formally exchanged, that is called the discovery process. Before the trial, usually about a month, but it can vary, there will be what is called a pre-trial, where the parties and their attorneys get together with the judge and discuss how the trial will go. If there are issues that need to be dealt with before the trial one side can file what is called a motion, the court will have a hearing on the motion sometime before the pre-trial.
Most cases settle before a trial by the parties agreeing, but, if there is no agreement a jury, or a judge depending on the case will decide the result, whether one side has to pay the other side money, or do something. In most cases if one side wants a trial by a jury there will be a jury, but, in some cases the case cannot be tried to a jury and must be decided by a judge.
This is a quick overview of what is involved in most civil cases in Minnesota. Stay tuned next week for family court 101.