A civil case includes many steps prior to going to court. Civil court cases include divorce, landlord/tenant claims, small claims court, contracts and tort cases. Each court has rules of civil procedure and evidence that govern the process of the case and the evidence that can be admitted to support a party's case.
A complaint is filed by the plaintiff in a case. The complaint must state the grounds for which the plaintiff is seeking relief from the court. It must include the parties that are involved, the legal claims of the plaintiff, facts establishing the claim and a legal basis for the court's jurisdiction over the case. A summons is usually issued with the complaint and served on the defendant.
Once a defendant is served with a complaint, the defendant must then answer the complaint. The answer will respond to each legal basis and factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint. A defendant may also file a counter-claim against the plaintiff at this point, which will state a claim against the plaintiff with the same sections required in the plaintiffs complaint.
A party to a case will serve the opposing party interrogatories and request for document production. Interrogatories are fact-finding questions to find out the opposing sides side of the story and information. Request for document production is exactly what is sounds like: it requests the opposing party to produce documentation regarding claims or other information pertinent to the case. Discovery also includes depositions, which are interviews conducted by the attorneys with a court reporter present. Depositions are taken under oath.
A party to a case may file a motion to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim for which the court can order relief. A motion to dismiss may also be for lack of personal jurisdiction or improper venue, which means that the court does not have authority over the person or subject matter. Another motion is a motion for summary judgment, which is filed when the parties do not disagree with the facts and the party requests the court to issue a decision based on the information presented rather than go to trial. Motion for default is filed when the opposing party does not respond to the original complaint.
The parties may settle their case prior to a trial by attending alternative dispute resolution or through a settlement agreement. This avoids the cost of a trial and ends the case before the court.
During a civil trial, a judge or jury listens to the arguments and reviews the evidence submitted by both parties. The court must determine who has met their burden of establishing a claim to hold the other party liable. The judge or jury will then issue a verdict, which may include a monetary award for one of the parties.
A party can appeal a decision of a court. Appeals are filed with higher courts to review the decision for error. The appeal must state what the party believes the error was. An appellate court may grant review if the court decides there may be an error or deny review if they see no error.