Missouri State Court System
- Circuit Court: The Circuit Courts are the primary trial courts, and have general jurisdiction over most civil and criminal cases.
- Court of Appeals:The Court of Appeals is the court of general appellate jurisdiction. It hears all cases appealed from the circuit courts of the counties, except for those appealed directly to the Missouri Supreme Court.
- Supreme Court of Missouri: The Supreme Court is the court of last resort in Missouri. It has supervisory authority over all Missouri courts.
*Some of the courts in the Missouri Court System also have jurisdiction over other proceedings which are not covered here.
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.
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 judge by order or any judicial circuit by local court rule may establish an alternative dispute resolution program. It is the purpose of the Court to provide an alternative mechanism for the resolution of civil disputes, including the following.
Arbitration– a procedure in which neutral persons, typically one person or a panel of three persons, hears both sides and decides the matter. The arbitrator’s decision is not binding and simply serves to guide the parties in trying to settle their lawsuit. Arbitration is typically less formal than a trial, is usually shorter, and may be conducted in a private setting at a time mutually agreeable to the parties. The parties, by agreement, select the arbitrator or arbitrators and determine the rules under which the arbitration will be conducted;
Early neutral evaluation– a process designed to bring together parties to litigation and their counsel in the early pretrial period to present case summaries before and receive a non-binding assessment from an experienced neutral evaluator. The objective is to promote early and meaningful communication concerning disputes, enabling parties to plan their cases effectively and assess realistically the relative strengths and weaknesses of their positions. While this confidential environment provides an opportunity to negotiate a resolution, immediate settlement is not the primary purpose of this process;
Mediation– a process in which a neutral third party facilitates communication between the parties to promote settlement. A mediator may not impose his or her own judgment on the issues for that of the parties;
Mini-Trial– a process in which each party and counsel present the case before a selected representative for each party and a neutral third party, to define the issues and develop a basis for realistic settlement negotiations. The neutral third party may issue an advisory opinion regarding the merits of the case.
Summary Jury Trial- is an informal settlement process in which jurors hear abbreviated case presentations. A judge presides over the hearing, but there are no witnesses, and the rules of evidence are relaxed. After the “trial”, the jurors retire to deliberate and then deliver an advisory verdict. The verdict becomes the starting point for settlement negotiations among the parties.
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 a final judgment is entered, the party wishing to appeal must file a notice of appeal with the clerk of the court within 10 days after the entry of the final judgment.
A judgment rendered in Missouri is valid for 10 years.
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 Missouri. Should you have a question/concern specific to Missouri law, please contact an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Missouri.