Lawsuit Filed

In North Carolina the Magistrate Courts have original jurisdiction over civil cases with expected damages of $5,000 or less. The District and Superior Courts have concurrent original jurisdiction in civil actions. However, the district court division is the proper division for the trial of civil actions in which the amount in controversy is $10,000 or less; and the superior court division is the proper division for the trial of civil actions in which the amount in controversy exceeds $10,000.

North Carolina State Court System

  • District Court: The District Courts have jurisdiction on civil actions with an amount in controversy of $10,000 or less.
  • Superior Court: The Superior Courts are the primary trial courts, and have general jurisdiction over most civil cases, including personal injury cases with expected damages of more than $10,000. They also hear appeals from the District Courts.
  • Court of Appeals: The Court of Appeals is the court of general appellate jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals hears appeals coming from the state trial courts.
  • Supreme Court of North Carolina: The Supreme Court is the highest court in the state of North Carolina. They hear cases appealed from the trial level courts and the Court of Appeals.

*Some of the courts in the North Carolina Court System also have jurisdiction over other 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

Per N.C. Gen. Stat. §7A-38.1 and the North Carolina Supreme Court’s Rules Implementing Mediated Settlement Conferences, referral to mediated settlement is mandatory for civil actions pending in Superior Court.

Parties ordered to participate in mediated settlement must choose a mediator certified by the Dispute Resolution Commission. If the parties cannot agree on a mediator, the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge will appoint a certified mediator to conduct the conference.

The mediator serves as a facilitator and focuses the parties’ discussions and brainstorming with them about how they might settle their dispute.

It is not a mediator’s job to force parties to settle. Following a successful mediation, the agreement reached will be reduced to writing and signed and the mediator will notify the court that the case has settled. If the case does not settle in mediation, the mediator will report an impasse to the court and the dispute will proceed 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 a final judgment is entered, the party wishing to appeal must file a notice of appeal with the clerk within 30 days after the entry of the final judgment.

Recovery

In North Carolina, a judgment is enforceable for 10 years from the date it was entered. After that point, it no longer can be enforced and is expired. Prior to the expiration of the judgment, the judgment creditor could seek to have it extended for another 10 years once. The extension is not automatic, and practices vary on whether a creditor will bother with renewal.

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