Anyone wishing to file a civil lawsuit in Maryland can do so by first selecting the appropriate court (circuit or district) in the appropriate county and then filing a complaint with the court clerk. The complaint must then be served upon the defendant or defendants as required by Maryland's rules of civil procedure.
Preparing a Complaint
A complaint is a legal document prepared by someone initiating a lawsuit. The complaint sets forth the names and addresses of the parties of the suit as well as the facts of the case and the relief sought. The person or entity filing the complaint in a civil case is called the plaintiff, and the people or entities being sued are called the defendants. In Maryland, the complaint must contain separately numbered paragraphs with concise statements of the facts of the case that entitle the plaintiff to relief.
Filing the Complaint
Once a complaint is prepared, the plaintiff must file it. In Maryland, civil lawsuits may be filed either in circuit court or district court, depending upon the type of case and the amount of money at stake. The complaint should be filed in the county in which the defendant lives or, if the matter is a breach of contract, carries on business.
If it's a personal injury lawsuit, the case should be filed where the incident or accident occurred. The plaintiff must file the complaint with the clerk and pay the appropriate filing fee, which is $34 for small claims and $46 otherwise.
Maryland District Courts
District courts are Maryland's courts for handling small claims as well as eviction actions and other landlord/tenant matters, plus minor criminal matters and matters involving consumer law and property. Every county has its own district court. For purposes of filing a civil lawsuit to recover money, anyone with a complaint seeking $5,000 or less must be filed in district court.
If the complaint is for more than $5,000 but less than $30,000, the plaintiff can choose to file in either district or circuit court. You should be able to download the complaint form or call the District Court of Maryland to receive a copy to file a suit without an attorney. The district court also has self-help resource centers in each county where plaintiffs can seek assistance in filing their lawsuits.
Maryland Circuit Courts
Maryland's circuit courts are its courts of general jurisdiction. Lawsuits seeking more than $5,000 can be filed in the circuit court, although anything below $30,000 can be filed in district court at the plaintiff's election. Each circuit court comprises multiple counties, so the plaintiff will need to check the court's website to make sure the complaint is filed in the correct circuit. Each county has a courthouse, but there are only eight judicial circuits.
Read More: How to File for Divorce in Maryland
Serving the Complaint
Once the complaint is filed, the clerk will issue a summons, and the plaintiff must deliver the summons and complaint either to the county sheriff or to a process server to deliver the complaint to the defendant within 60 days of the summons being issued. Once the complaint is properly served, the sheriff or process server will complete an affidavit of service, which the plaintiff must file with the court to show that the complaint was served. The defendants then have 30 days to file an answer to the complaint or a motion to dismiss the complaint.
Civil lawsuits in Maryland are filed either in district or circuit court. District court is for small claims, while circuit court is for larger claims. Anything less than $5,000 must be filed in district court; district court may hear matters worth up to $30,000. The circuit court is for matters with an amount in controversy of more than $5,000.
- Maryland Courts: District Court of Maryland Cost Schedule
- Maryland Courts: District Court Self-Help Resource Centers
- Maryland Courts: District Courts
- Maryland Courts: Circuit Courts
- Westlaw: Maryland Code and Court Rules: Rule 2-303. Form of Pleadings
- Kramer & Connolly: Maryland Civil Litigation Deadlines
Rebecca K. McDowell is a creditors' rights attorney with a special focus on bankruptcy and insolvency. She has a B.A. in English from Albion College and a J.D. from Wayne State University Law School. She has written legal articles for Nolo and the Bankruptcy Site.