Civ Pro - Structure of the Court System
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What are the two principal types of courts?
Trial courts - where proceedings are initiated, disputed issues framed, proofs taken, and initial decision handed down. Unless a timely application for appeal is made, the decision is final
Appellate courts - inquires whether the trial court properly disposed of the case as presented to it.
The courts in which disputes are ordinarily heard. Distinguished from federal courts.
State Trial Courts
Courts of limited jurisdiction - courts that are authorized to hear and determine cases involving a relatively small amount in controversy and (ordinarily) simple issues.
Historic prototype: rural justice court presided over by a justice of peace and the municipal court presided over by a magistrate. Justice court heard civil cases for small amounts and criminal cases for minor offenses such as misdemeanors. Municipal court had very limited jurisdiction
Historic pattern still exists in some states, but most have a reorganized system. Most states have expanded jurisdiction of their courts and professionalized them.
Courts of General Jurisdiction or Trial Court of General Jurisdiction (state)
State courts with the the ability to hear cases of all types, unlimited by subject matter or amount in controversy. Cases that are not channeled elsewhere (to other courts with more limited jurisdiction) are heard here.
- Different name for this court in different states:
- CA - Superior Court
- NY - Supreme Court
- Many states - Circuit Court
- Other states - District Court, County Court, Court of Common Pleas, and other names
How many judges hear a case in a state trial court?
Generally one. Urban areas usually have more than one judge who will each preside over a different phase of the case (preliminary pleadings, discovery, trial), but always only one judge presiding at a time.
Specialized Courts (state)
States also have specialized types of courts such as probate court, domestic relations court, and others.
Sometimes these are staffed by separate judges in separate court houses; sometimes they just refer to specialized procedures applied in the court of general jurisdiction.
Modes of appeal from courts of limited jurisdiction (state)
In some states, mode of appeal is by trial de novo in the court of general jurisdiction (case to be retried in court of general jurisdiction). Will hear issues framed in lower court as well as some new evidence
In other states, mode of appeal to court of general jurisdiction is strictly review, meaning the court of general jurisdiction considers the correctness of the case presented below.
Note: In some states the appeal to the court of general jurisdiction is the final appeal; case goes no further.
Methods of appeal from courts of general jurisdiction (state)
All states permit appellate review for cases in courts of general jurisdiction.
Some states only have one court for appeals. Most have intermediate appellate courts
- NY - intermediate appellate court is the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court
- CA - Court of Appeal
Subject matter jurisdiction of intermediate appellate courts and typical pattern for appeals being heard (state)
Varies from state to state
- Typical pattern:
- All types of appeals from trial courts are taken to the intermediate appellate court.
- Further appellate review in the state supreme court is obtainable only by the discretion of the supreme court. You apply for a writ of centiorari. In CA it is called an "application for hearing." If granted, case goes to the supreme court, or highest court in the state.
Number of judges in the appellate courts (state)
Highest appellate court of a state consists of several judges. The number varies by state, but typically 7 (NY, IL, CA)
Federal Trial Courts
Principal trial court is the District Court. They are organized along territorial lines called districts. EAch district comprises a state or portion of a state.
Each district has one or ore judge, which sit individually to hear any particular case.
Federal District Courts have jurisdiction of cases between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75K.
Federal Question Jurisdiction
Actions by private individuals arising under federal law. Amount in question doesn't matter.
Two other types of federal jurisdiction
Actions by or against the federal government and its agencies.
Admiralty, or maritime, suits.
Specialized Federal Courts
Exist in addition to the federal District Courts.
Examples: Bankruptcy Courts, Claims Court, Tax Court.
Courts of Appeal (federal)
The intermediate appellate courts of the federal system. Federal District Court Decisions are appellable here.
Formerly known as the Circuit Courts.
Organized territorially by groups of states.
How many circuits are there in the federal system for courts of appeal and what are their jurisdictions?
- First Circuit through Eleventh Circuit
- Twelfth is the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
- Thirteenth is Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
Jurisdiction of the first 12 are based on geography, while the last is based on subject matter.
Highest court in the federal system and what type of jurisdiction does it have?
US Supreme Court.
Has original jurisdiction for very few cases (mostly action between states),
Otherwise the Supreme Court's jurisdiction is appellate. Has appellate jurisdiction of cases originating in the lower federal courts, and in certain types of cases originating in state courts.
Procedure for Court of Appeals review of District Court decisions is by...
appeal or, in unusual cases, by extraordinary writ.
Procedure for appellate review by the Supreme Court is by...
writ of certiorari in virtually all cases.
The choice of which cases to review is entirely in the Supreme Court's discretion.
In practice, the Supreme Court uses its power of appellate review to decide important or unsettled questions of federal law rather than to correct errors of the lower courts.
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