The complexity of civil litigation in North Carolina can be overwhelming. While your attorney will be well-versed in this area, it’s still important to understand the basic process in a civil litigation case and the steps to take to go from filing the suit to meeting in court. Take a closer look at the NC civil court process and outlines a typical civil lawsuit at the Superior Court level.
In North Carolina, there are three levels of trial court that handle civil litigation: Small Claims/Magistrate Court, District Court, and Superior Court. What warrants a case to be filed on the Superior Court level?
A key factor in determining which level of court to litigate a case depends on the dollar amount being disputed.
Civil litigation isn’t always black and white, but the general steps that occur along the path to a trial in Superior Court are:
To start a lawsuit, the Plaintiff (the party that initiates the lawsuit) will have to file a complaint. To file a complaint, a document is prepared by a civil litigation attorney to spell out the facts and define the legal remedies being sought.
If the Plaintiff is seeking more than $25,000, the case will usually be filed in Superior Court. In North Carolina, the Clerk of Court charges a $200 fee for the complaint to be filed.
Next, the Plaintiff’s attorney has to obtain proper delivery of the summons and complaint to the Defendant (the party being sued). The summons is a document issued by the Clerk that accompanies the complaint, and puts the Defendant on official notice that a lawsuit has been filed against him.
Proper delivery of these documents to the Defendant is known as service of process. Service can be obtained in several ways, including delivery by the sheriff or by certified mail.
Once the Defendant has been served, the Rules of Civil Procedure allow him 30 days to file an answer or other response (such as motion to dismiss). This is known as the responsive pleading.
There is a procedure to obtain an additional 30 days to file this response, but these deadlines are strict and failing to act in time can be disastrous.
After the Defendant has filed his answer, the process of discovery takes place. The purpose of discovery is to allow time for both sides to gather information on the case and learn as much as possible about the facts, so that they can adequately try their case before the judge or jury.
Here, the lawyers for both sides exchange written questions and requests for copies of documents. Each side is legally required to provide their answers and render the requested documents.
Often, depositions are taken, where the attorneys question parties and witnesses under oath, and the answers are transcribed for later use in court.
The last step on the path to Superior Court trial, most lawsuits in the Superior Court Division are ordered to mandatory mediation. The idea of mediation is to attempt to resolve the dispute outside of the courtroom, and help litigants arrive at a compromise settlement.
Typically, the attorneys for the two sides agree on a third party mediator to preside over the mediation conference. Mediators are often other lawyers or retired judges that have had specialized training in dispute resolution.
A mediated settlement is often beneficial to both sides and avoids taking the case to trial, saving everyone involved time and resources.
If the parties cannot come to an agreed resolution in mediation, then the case moves forward to trial.
Civil litigation rules are complex, and the consequences serious. An experienced, knowledgeable lawyer is absolutely vital when facing the prospect of litigation in Superior Court.
Civil law attorney Hank Doyle has represented Cary and Raleigh clients in Superior Court civil litigation cases for 20 years.