The Georgia State Court System

  • State Court: The Georgia State Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. It can hear civil matters that are not reserved exclusively for the superior courts.
  • Magistrate Court: Magistrate Courts are also courts of limited jurisdiction. It can hear civil cases involving amounts of $15,000 or less. It is the case of first resort for many civil disputes, including landlord-tenant issues, and county ordinance violations.
  • Superior Court: The Superior Court is a court of general jurisdiction. It has jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases. The Superior Court may also correct errors made by lower courts.
  • Court of Appeals:The Court of Appeals of Georgia is the court of first review for civil cases heard at the trial court level. These cases are assigned to a three judge panel for review. Panel decisions are final unless one judge dissents.
  • Supreme Court: The Supreme Court Georgia is the state’s highest court. They review decisions made by the trial courts, as well as decisions by the Court of Appeals.

*Some of the above courts in the Georgia 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

Any contested civil case may be referred to mediation, non-binding arbitration, or case evaluation by the judge to whom the case is assigned.

Mediaition is a process in which a neutral party facilitates settlement discussions between parties. The mediator cannot impose a settlement upon the parties, but rather focuses the attention on the needs and interests of each party. Any settlement is voluntary, and the parties do not lose their right to a jury trial if they fail to reach a settlement.

Arbitration is a process where a neutral arbitrator or panel of arbitrators render a decision after hearing evidence from both parties. In cases of non-binding arbitration, either side can demand a trial.

Case Evaluation usually involves a neutral evaluator, often a lawyer with expertise in the specific subject matter of the litigation. Each side will present a summary of their legal theories and evidence. The evaluator will assess the case, and provide an evaluation of the case to help narrow the issues in the case. The findings of the case evaluation can be used as a basis for settlement negotiations.

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 Georgia.

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