Rhode Island State Court System

  • District Court: The District Court has concurrent jurisdiction in civil matters where the amount of expected damages is between $5,000 and $10,000.
  • Superior Court: The Superior Court has original jurisdiction in civil cases in excess of $10,000 in expected damages.
  • Supreme Court: Rhode Island does not have an intermediate appellate court. Appeals from the Superior Court go to the Supreme Court, the highest court in Rhode Island.

*Some of the courts in the Rhode Island 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

If a civil action is filed in a Rhode Island Superior Court whereby the amount of expected damages does not exceed $100,000 the case may be referred to arbitration proceedings.

If the case is referred to arbitration, at least 10 days before the date set for the hearing, the parties must exchange and provide for the arbitrator; a list of witnesses expected to testify; exhibits being offered into evidence; and a statement of issues and contentions. A judgment entered by way of an arbitration proceeding has the same force and effect as a judgment rendered in a trial action.

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

A Notice of Appeal must be filed with the clerk of the trial court within 20 days of the date of the entry of the judgment.

Recovery

A judgment rendered in Rhode Island is valid for 20 years.

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