Pennsylvania Court System

  • Municipal and Magisterial District Courts: These courts have limited jurisdiction, including civil matters with an amount in controversy of up to $12,000.
  • Courts of Common Pleas: The Courts of Common Pleas are the primary trail courts of general jurisdiction. They hear civil cases with an amount in controversy over $7,000.
  • Superior Court: The Superior Court generally handles appeals of final decisions of the courts of common pleas, including civil matters.
  • Supreme Court of Pennsylvania: The Supreme Court is the highest court in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court hears requests for discretionary appeals from the Superior Court.

*Some of the courts in the Pennsylvania 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 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

Alternative Dispute Resolution is growing as a viable alternative to traditional litigation in Pennsylvania. Some districts in Pennsylvania have instituted rules that actually mandate Alternative Dispute Resolution in certain civil actions. For example, the Western District of Pennsylvania adopted Local Rule 16.2 which mandates alternative dispute resolution is used in order to create a just, timely and economical resolution to contested legal matters. Under Local Rule 16.2, the Alternative Dispute Resolution procedure may include mediation, arbitration or early neutral evaluation.

  • Mediation is non-binding and involves a neutral party, chosen by both parties, to facilitate settlement negotiations.
  • Arbitration is a formal process whereby an arbitrator, chosen by both parties, is presented with evidence and then makes a non-binding judgment on the claims. If a decision is rejected, the case will likely then be moved to trial.
  • Early neutral evaluation allows the parties to gain insights into their case. Both sides present a sampling of their argument to a neutral lawyer who then keys in on areas that both sides may agree upon. From there case planning suggestions and settlement assistance may be provided.

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.

Appeals

Per Rule 903, a Notice of Appeal must be filed within 30 days of the of entry of the judgment.

Recovery

Per 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 4303, in Pennsylvania the entry of a money judgment will automatically act as a lien upon all of the judgment debtor’s real estate in the county. The lien will remain on the property for 5 years. If the holder of the judgment does not revive the judgment every 5 years, the lien on the real estate will lapse. The lien will remain in place but it will lose its priority over other judgment holders. If the judgment is not revived within 10 years the lien will cease to exist.

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