California State Court System

  • Superior Court: California’s primary trial court is the Superior Court which has jurisdiction over all civil cases. These case are divided into two categories: unlimited and limited civil cases. Limited civil cases are those for $25,000 or less. Unlimited civil cases are those with an amount in controversy greater than $25,000. The Superior Court also has a Small Claims department which hears cases where the amount involved is under $10,000. The Superior Court includes an an appellate division, which has jurisdiction over appeals of limited civil cases. A Small Claims case can also be appealed in the Superior Court in certain circumstances.
  • Courts of Appeal: This is the intermediate appellate court in California. This court can hear appeals from unlimited civil cases from the Superior Court, as well as other matters assigned by statute. It also has original jurisdiction in limited matters such as petitions for writs of habeas corpus.
  • Supreme Court: The California Supreme Court is the highest court of the state. The court has discretion to decide which cases to review from the Courts of Appeal and other administrative agencies. It also has original jurisdiction in limited matters such as habeas corpus cases.

*Some of the above courts in the California State Court System also have jurisdiction over certain criminal proceedings which are not covered here.

Pleadings

In the beginning stages of a lawsuit legal documents called pleadings are filed. To initiate the lawsuit, the plaintiff files a pleading called a Complaint which sets forth one or more causes of action against the defendant(s) named in the Complaint. After the Plaintiff files the Complaint and properly serves the Complaint on the Defendant(s), the Defendant(s) then have 30 days from the date of service to file a pleading called an Answer. The Defendant(s)’ Answer will respond to each of the causes of action in the Plaintiff’s Complaint and set forth any defenses, cross claims and/or counter claims the Defendant(s) will raise.

Discovery

After all parties to the lawsuit have filed pleadings, the case then proceeds to Discovery. Essentially, the discovery process is a fact-finding and investigative endeavor in which each party gathers information and evidence from opposing parties and/or non-party witnesses. While the discovery process includes a variety of other mechanisms used to gather information, it will generally consist of the following:

  • Written Discovery is generally used at the start of discovery and comes in two basic forms:

    • Interrogatories – Formal questions and/or requests for information served on one party by an opposing party. The party served with interrogatories must provide written responses to each of the interrogatories or respond with an objection to the interrogatory.
    • Requests for Production of Documents – Often served with a set of interrogatories, requests for production of documents are formal requests for certain documentation relevant to the claims and defenses raised in the pleadings.
  • Depositions – In a deposition, either a party to the lawsuit or a non-party witness will provide oral testimony under oath and in the presence of a court reporter who makes a written record of everything said during the deposition.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Before the lawsuit goes to trial, the parties may elect to schedule a mediation to attempt to resolve the matter. California offers four different forms of alternative dispute resolution: mediation, binding arbitration, non-binding arbitration, and the settlement conference.

  • Mediation is the first alternative dispute resolution option for California personal injury claims. During mediation, both sides explain their positions to a neutral third party. This third party will then help negotiate the process and work for a solution that is acceptable to both parties.
  • Arbitration is a private, adversarial process during which the parties present evidence to an arbitrator who renders a decision. This decision can be binding or non-binding, depending upon the agreement between the parties.
  • A Settlement Conference is a meeting between opposing sides of a lawsuit during which parties attempt to reach a mutually agreeable resolution of their dispute without proceeding to trial.

Trial

If the parties have not reached a settlement through mediation or otherwise, at the conclusion of discovery, the case then proceeds to trial. Depending on the complexity of the case, a trial can take as little as a single day or as long as several weeks to complete. At the conclusion of a typical civil trial, the jury will return a verdict for the plaintiff and award money damages to the plaintiff or the jury will return a verdict for the defendant finding that the defendant was not at fault.

Motions and Appeals

After the jury returns their verdict, the parties may file post trial motions and/or appeal the verdict to the appropriate appellate court in California.

DISCLAIMER:

The law firm of Walker Morgan is located at 135 E Main St., Lexington, SC 29072. All lawyers at Walker Morgan are licensed to practice law in the State of South Carolina. Should you wish to retain our firm for legal representation regarding a potential case in any other jurisdiction we are required to associate local counsel in that foreign jurisdiction and seek permission from a court of the foreign jurisdiction to temporarily engage in the practice of law therein for purposes of pursuing your potential claim only.

By offering the following information the lawyers at Walker Morgan are not offering legal advice or legal guidance. The lawyers at Walker Morgan are not licensed to practice law in California. Should you have a question/concern specific to California law, please contact an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of California.