Legal cases are divided into two types, criminal and civil, which includes everything that is not a criminal charge. Criminal cases can be filed only by a public prosecutor, while civil cases can be brought by individuals or business entities. In Missouri, a person can file a civil case in small claims court or in another division of the circuit court.
Missouri Court System
In Missouri, trial courts are called circuit courts. The state is divided into 46 different judicial circuits, and within each are various court divisions including small claims, municipal, family, probate, criminal and juvenile.
A person starting a civil case decides which court to file in based on the subject matter of the case and the amount of damages he is claiming. For example, if the case is for money damages that total $5,000 or less, he can opt to file in the Missouri Small Claims Court. For a divorce action, he would file in the family court.
Starting a Lawsuit in Missouri
To start a civil action in Missouri, a person files a petition with the court. The person filing it is called the petitioner while the person she is suing is termed the respondent.
When a case is filed, the court clerk in Missouri issues a summons to the respondent, and the petitioner must arrange to have both the petition and the summons personally served on the respondent. Usually this means that these documents are placed into the person's hands, but Missouri authorizes other means of service if personal service is not possible.
Read More: Missouri LLC Taxation
Preparing the Small Claims Petition
A petitioner with a money claim of under $5,000 can file a petition in Missouri Small Claims Court. Small Claims is a court where the rules and procedures are much less formal and a party can represent himself without an attorney. A judge hears the proceedings, not a jury.
A Small Claims petition is fairly simple and straightforward. The petitioner sets out the names and addresses of the parties, then sets out the underlying facts of the action, what the respondent did to injure him and the damages he incurred. He signs under penalty of perjury, then dates the document. He files it with the clerk of the Missouri Small Claims Court and pays a small filing fee.
Preparing the Circuit Court Petition
If the individual wishes to file a civil action in Missouri for something other than $5,000 or less in money damages, she must file in another division of the Circuit Court. The petitioner may be able to use a civil form, depending on the type of case. She must put the facts of the case into the petition, including the identification of the parties, what happened and what type of relief she is seeking. Depending on the case, other information may be required by Missouri law.
The petitioner must sign the Missouri petition under oath before a notary. It must be filed in the appropriate county (usually where either the petitioner or respondent resides.) The petitioner pays a filing fee or, if she cannot afford it, must ask the court to waive the fee.
A "Confidential Filing Information Sheet" must be filed simultaneously in every Missouri case. This gives the court any confidential information about the case the petitioner deems important. Missouri courts may also require that the petitioner file additional forms with the petition, depending on the type of case being filed and the court in which it is being filed.
Check Local Rules Before Filing
Some courts' "local rules" require forms particular to that court. It is a good idea for a petitioner to check with the court before filing to ascertain how many forms are required.
- If you are seeking less than $3,000, you can file your complaint in small-claims court. In Missouri, small-claims court may be part of a municipal court or part of the circuit court.
- Missouri has 45 circuit courts. Some encompass more than one county.
- Circuit clerks can not assist you in completing forms.
- A civil suit must be filed within one to 10 years from the time of the incident at issue. For example, a suit alleging violation of a contract must be filed in five years. A suit filed after the specified period will be rejected.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.