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Lawsuit: which court should take your case

If you are thinking of filing a lawsuit, here are tips to will help you learn which court will take your case and help you decide if an attorney is needed.

If you are thinking of filing a lawsuit, learn which court will take your case and help you decide whether you need an attorney

When you are considering filing a civil case in Court, a chief consideration would be what category your case would actually belong in. There are three main categories to consider: Small Claims, Limited Jurisdiction, and Unlimited Jurisdiction:

Small Claims

ComptonHerald.com | Joe Richardson

“Legal Learning” is commentary by Joe Richardson, Esq. The column does not constitute legal advice, as individual cases turn on their particular facts.

Your case belongs in Small Claims if there is $10,000 or less in controversy. Attorneys cannot represent you in small claims. That limit is for individuals and sole proprietors; businesses can ask for no more than $5,000. The advantages with Small Claims are time and expense: your hearing is within a couple of months after the filing, and it will usually cost not more than $75 to file your claim.

Disadvantages include that you can do no “discovery” to find out facts to help you win your case. Also, if you filed the claim and lose, you have no right to appeal.

Limited Jurisdiction

Limited Civil court has a maximum amount in controversy of $25,000. These cases are entitled to substantially less discovery than are unlimited cases; namely, you only have a maximum of only one deposition that can be taken and a total of 35 discovery questions (interrogatories, requests for admissions, and document production requests).

Here, the limited discovery is an advantage because it keeps costs down and narrows the focus of the case, but can be a disadvantage if you need to know more than the 35 questions and one deposition will allow.

Unlimited Jurisdiction

Unlimited Civil cases have no jurisdictional amount (other than those prescribed by the law related to the particular causes of action. Theoretically, parties can ask whatever amount of discovery they like, but would need to attach a Declaration if going over 35 Requests for Admission or Interrogatories.

Advantages are the use of attorneys and fewer discovery limits. Disadvantages are time and expense (attorneys particularly). If you bring your case in Unlimited, it could still be re-classified to Limited Civil if it is clear the damages are $25,000 or less.

Tips When Looking at Court

If your case is for anything less than $15,000, consider Small Claims Court; it is quicker, and cheaper, and given “time is money,” you could be better off with $10,000 (and minimal expenses to judgment) in a couple months than the chance at $15,000 (with more expenses including attorney’s fees) in Limited Civil.

Second, if your case looks like a Limited Civil Case, be very focused about what you need to prove at trial, which can guide your limited discovery.

Finally, take stock of the information and documentation you already have that will help you in your case. This, along with potential amount in controversy, should help you evaluate which court to bring your case in.

Joe Richardson, Esq. is a native son of South-Central Los Angeles, and an attorney practicing tort, contract, and labor, and employment law in Southern California for more than 15 years. He also teaches and speaks on legal issues.


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