Montana State Court System
- District Court: The District Courts have general jurisdiction over most civil cases, including personal injury and tort matters.
- Supreme Court of Montana: Montana does not have an intermediate appellate court. The Supreme Court of Montana hears direct appeals from the District Courts. The Supreme Court also has jurisdiction in cases where no facts are in dispute, and there is only a legal or constitutional question at issue.
*Some of the courts in the Montana 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 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.
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
In arbitration proceedings, the parties select an impartial third-party arbitrator, or a panel of arbitrators. The panel is usually made up of three neutral arbitrators, or one neutral and two non-neutral arbitrators. The arbitrator meets with the parties, listens to each party’s presentation, determines the facts, and then makes a decision. Before arbitration starts, the parties may decide whether the arbitration is made, then the arbitrators’ award is enforceable, similar to a court judgment. If the parties agree to a non-binding arbitration, then the arbitrators’ award only provides additional information for use in further settlement negotiations.
Mediation – is a confidential meeting where a mediator helps parties exchange information and consider possible solutions. A mediator does not issue orders, give opinions on how the case should be resolved, or advocate for either party. Mediation is a non-adversarial, cooperative method which clears the way for open and helpful communication between the parties.
Mini-Trial – The mini-trial is a flexible procedure used when parties want to resolve an issue protecting their relationship or future business interests. Most often, mini-trials involve corporations or governmental agencies.
Settlement Conference – In a settlement conference, a case is presented to an impartial panel or judge. Each party’s attorney presents a case summary to the panel or judge. The judge is allowed to ask questions, after which the parties’ attorneys make brief closing statements. Afterwords, the judge may meet privately with each party and attorney and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the case. Each of the parties hears its case compared and contrasted with the other party’s case. The parties also hear an objective third party opinion of each of its case’s strengths and weaknesses.
Summary Jury Trial – A Summary Jury Trial is utilized when a full jury trial would take a long time. A summary jury trial is completed in a day or less.
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 Office of the Clerk of the District Court within 30 days after the entry of the final judgment.
A judgment rendered in Montana 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 Montana. Should you have a question/concern specific to Montana law, please contact an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Montana.