By Jordan G. English
As your dedicated legal team, we believe that knowledge is the cornerstone of successful litigation. By providing you with essential insights of the complex world of civil litigation, we aim to empower you with a deeper understanding of the legal process in Michigan and your rights in the context of civil disputes.
Understanding Civil Litigation in Michigan
Civil litigation refers to the legal process of resolving disputes between individuals, organizations, or businesses through the court system. Unlike criminal cases that involve public offenses, civil litigation centers around private disputes, including contract disagreements, internal and external business disputes, property disputes, personal injury claims, and more. Generally, a civil case is filed because of a disagreement between two people, businesses or organizations, and the disagreement usually involves one party believing that they have been harmed (physically or financially), had their rights violated, were impeded from doing something they were otherwise entitled to do, or suffered a breach of a contract with another party. Quantifying the harm that a party has suffered due to the actions or inactions of the other party in a case relates to the claimed damages of the case and is vital to any civil lawsuit. Without a party suffering damages, a civil case cannot get off the ground.
Jurisdiction and Venue
Jurisdiction and venue are fundamental elements of any civil case in Michigan. Jurisdiction determines which court has the authority to hear a particular case, while venue refers to the geographic location of the appropriate court for the lawsuit. In Michigan, jurisdiction is based on factors such as the location of parties involved, the subject matter of the dispute, and the amount in controversy.
Generally, in Michigan, if the amount in controversy (amount of damages the plaintiff is claiming) of a case is $6,500 or less, jurisdiction of the case will be with the applicable Small Claims Court. If a complaint is filed in Small Claims Court, the parties are not allowed to be represented by an attorney, unless it is requested that it be “removed” to District Court by a defendant. If the amount in controversy is between $6,500 and $25,000, then jurisdiction will typically be with the appropriate District Court. The Circuit Courts of Michigan have jurisdiction for all cases involving an amount above $25,000 and for certain types of claims that involve specific laws, regardless of the amount in controversy. Our legal team can guide you through this initial step, ensuring your case is brought before the proper court.
The Pleadings Stage
The pleadings stage marks the formal commencement of a civil lawsuit. The plaintiff initiates the process by filing a civil complaint, which outlines the nature of the dispute, the relief sought, and the legal basis for the claim. The plaintiff is responsible for filing the complaint with the court and serving the complaint on the defendant. A plaintiff can typically serve a defendant by personal service (i.e., hand delivery) or by certified mail.
Once served, the defendant then must respond with an answer, admitting, denying, or otherwise addressing the allegations in the complaint. Pursuant to Michigan Court Rules, if a defendant is personally served, the defendant has twenty-one (21) days to file an answer with the court. If a defendant is served via certified mail, the defendant has twenty-eight (28) days to file an answer. If a defendant fails to timely file an answer, the plaintiff may request that the court enter a default judgment against the defendant for the relief sought. Therefore, it is crucial to immediately notify your attorney or legal team upon accepting service of a civil complaint to ensure that there is sufficient time to prepare and file a proper answer with adequate defenses for the claims.
Pleadings set the foundation for the entire case, making it imperative to be accurate and comprehensive in presenting your claims or defenses.
Discovery: Uncovering Vital Information
Discovery is a vital phase in civil litigation, allowing both parties to obtain crucial information from each other and third-party witnesses. This process may include the parties exchanging interrogatories (written questions), depositions (oral testimonies under oath), requests for documents, and requests for admissions. Discovery helps build a clear picture of the case’s merits and enables parties to make informed decisions regarding settlement or trial strategies.
Motions: Seeking Judicial Intervention
Throughout the litigation process, either party may file motions to request judicial intervention on specific matters. Motions can address issues such as dismissing a case, compelling the production of evidence, or seeking summary judgment based on undisputed facts. Our Firm’s seasoned attorneys have extensive experience in drafting persuasive motions and responses and effectively advocating in court for your best interests.
Alternative Dispute Resolution and Settlement
During the litigation process, the parties, voluntarily or through the court’s order, may enter into an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process in an attempt to reach a settlement and resolution of the claims to avoid the continuance of litigation. Alternative Dispute Resolution refers to any process designed to resolve a legal dispute in the place of adjudication, and can include settlement conferences, case evaluation, mediation, arbitration, and any other procedures as defined by the Michigan Court Rules. During litigation, the parties may also engage in informal settlement discussions in an attempt to resolve the case prior to trial.
The Pre-Trial and Trial Phases
As the case progresses, the court may schedule a pre-trial conference to discuss settlement opportunities, streamline the issues, and prepare for trial. If a resolution cannot be reached between the parties, the case proceeds to trial. Civil lawsuits can be decided by a bench trial (a trial before a judge) or a jury trial with the jury made up of citizens from the respective court’s geographical area (venue). During the trial, both parties present their evidence and arguments, and the judge or jury determines the outcome.
Appeals: Seeking Review of Court Decisions
In the event of an unfavorable trial outcome, you have the right to seek an appeal. An appeal allows higher courts to review the lower court’s decision for errors of law or procedure that may have affected the judgment. The appellate process requires a different set of skills, and our lawyers are ready to navigate this intricate terrain.
Navigating civil litigation in Michigan demands a comprehensive understanding of the legal process, an unwavering commitment to your case, and the experience to make strategic decisions at every stage. At Williams, Knack, & Burrows, P.C., our team of attorneys stands ready to protect your or your business’s rights and advocate for your or your business’s best interests. Our Firm’s litigation prowess ensures that we present a compelling case on your behalf, seeking a favorable resolution. Should you find yourself embroiled in a civil dispute, do not hesitate to reach out to us. With our expertise and dedication, we ensure that you have the best possible representation throughout the litigation experience.