The Delaware State Court System

  • Justice of the Peace Courts: This court has jurisdiction over civil cases in which the disputed amount is less than $15,000.
  • Court of Common Pleas: This court has jurisdiction over civil cases where the amount in controversy is less than $50,000.
  • Superior Court: This is the court of general jurisdiction in Delaware. The Superior Court has original jurisdiction over civil cases, with the exception of equity cases. It also serves as the intermediate appellate court, hearing some appeals from the Court of Common Pleas.
  • Supreme Court: The Delaware Supreme Court is the court of last resort in the state. It hears direct appeals from the Superior Court.

*Some of the above courts in the Delaware 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 20 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

Delaware Superior Court Rule 16 states that the court shall enter a scheduling order that establishes or limits the time to engage in compulsory alternative dispute resolution. The type of alternative dispute resolution may be mediation, neutral case assessment, or binding or non-binding arbitration, with mediation being the default method if the parties cannot come to an agreement.

  • Arbitration is a private, adversarial process by which the disputing parties choose a neutral party who will render a decision based on the facts and law. This decision can be binding, or non-binding, depending upon the agreement of the parties.
  • Mediation is a flexible, non-binding process in which a neutral third party assists each side in negotiating in order to come to a mutually acceptable agreement. Mediators do not make decisions for parties, but instead help each side realize and explain their needs, clarify misunderstandings, and identify issues while exploring solutions.
  • Neutral Case Assessment is a process through which the parties may obtain an expert and neutral evaluation of the merits of their respective cases during the early stages of a dispute. The assessment is intended to restore or facilitate communication between the parties on the basis of an independent analysis and recommendations obtained through a highly specialized neutral analysis of each particular dispute. The neutral assessor may use mediation or arbitration techniques to reach a settlement.

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 Delaware.

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 Delaware. Should you have a question/concern specific to Delaware law, please contact an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Delaware.