How to File a Civil Lawsuit in Ohio

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It can be simple or more difficult to file a civil complaint in Ohio, depending on the underlying facts of the case. If an individual intends to make very straightforward claims for up to $6,000 in money damages, she can file a complaint in the Ohio Small Claims Court. However, for other claims, she must file in regular civil courts in that state with much more formal rules of procedure.

Types of Civil Cases

A civil case is usually defined as any court action that is not a criminal action. Criminal cases are brought by the government prosecutor, not private individuals or business entities. They seek criminal penalties, like jail time, probation or fines.

Any case brought by a private party is a civil case, often claims one party brings against another for money damages. But it can also include other types of civil actions.Civil cases include:

  • contract disputes.
  • foreclosures.
  • personal injury cases.
  • cases for property damage.
  • back rent and eviction cases.
  • small claims.
  • certificate of judgment transfers.
  • divorces and child custody.
  • declaratory judgments.
  • housing and safety code issues.

Ohio Courts That Hear Civil Cases

Various courts in the Ohio trial court system hear civil cases. These include the Courts of Common Pleas, County Courts, Municipal Courts and Court of Claims. Courts of Common Pleas have the right to hear any civil and criminal cases, but they usually handle only cases that do not fit within the limited jurisdiction of other courts.

Municipal courts handle cases seeking damages of $15,000 or less, while small claims handle cases of $6,000 or less. The Ohio Court of Claims hears cases against the State of Ohio and its agencies. Any individual wishing to file a civil case but not sure of which court to use should consult the court or an attorney before proceeding further.

Read More: What Is Civil Court?

Petition for Civil Case

A civil lawsuit begins with a petition or a complaint, alternative titles for the opening document. The person filing the case is usually termed the plaintiff, while the parties he is suing are called the defendants. The basic idea of a petition is to inform the defendants and the court of the plaintiff's claims.

To that end, Ohio courts require that the plaintiff identify himself and every party being sued. He must also set out the underlying facts of the matter and describe the type of action. Obviously, a divorce petition will look different than a civil action following a car accident seeking damages for personal injuries. But regardless of the type of case, the plaintiff must spell out the relevant facts leading up to the compliant.

The plaintiff can and should get further information about the requirements of a complaint by visiting the website of the court in question, or visiting the court itself and talking to the court clerks. Different courts may require specialized "local" forms to be used, while other may have particular procedures that must be followed.

Petition in Municipal Court

As an example, an individual starting an action in in the Franklin County Municipal Court must prepare and file the complaint or petition appropriate to the type of action. The court accepts these types of actions:

  • Category E: Personal Injury or Property Damage.
  • Category F: Contracts, Notes, and Accounts.
  • Category G: Forcible Entry and Detainer (Evictions).
  • Category H: Other Civil Matters.
  • Category I: Small Claims.
  • Category P: Appeal of determinations by the City of Columbus Parking Violations Bureau.

A petition must include the type of action being filed, the names and addresses of all parties and the signature of the plaintiff.

Court Filing Fees

The person starting a civil action in Ohio must pay a filing fee. If she is not able to afford the fee, she can petition the court for a waiver of fees.

Some fees are more than others. The fee for a small claims filing is currently $37, while the fee for filing in a Municipal Court or Court of Common Pleas can range to several hundred dollars.

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