The Superior Court has jurisdiction over both limited and unlimited matters. A matter is a limited case if the demand of the complaint, exclusive of interest, or the value of the property in controversy amounts to $25,000.00 or less. CCP 86 sets forth in greater detail various cases that would fall under limited jurisdiction. A civil action or proceeding other than a limited civil case may be referred to as an unlimited civil case (CCP 86). Usually unlimited cases are matters in which the amount demanded exceeds $25,000.00, the value of the property exceeds $25,000.00, or damages are prayed for as “according to proof” such as in a personal injury case where medical damages continue to be incurred beyond the filing of the complaint.
A trial may be a court trial or a jury trial. In a court trial the case is decided by the judicial officer without a jury. Either party may file a demand for jury trial. The demand must be timely filed per statute or the right to a jury trial is waived. In addition to the proper demand for jury trial, a deposit of advance jury fees is required at least 25 days prior to the date set for trial. The deposit amount is set by statute and is made with the clerk. Additional jury fees will be collected for each day the jury is in session. (CCP 631) Some courts also require a deposit for court reporter fees or fees for other means of recording fees.
If the case is not previously resolved by default or settlement, when the trial date arrives, the bench officer calls the case. One of several things may occur:
- If both parties are present and ready to go to trial, the case will proceed and be tried
- If only the plaintiff is appearing and wishes to proceed, the case may be heard and can proceed to judgment based on the proof offered by the plaintiff
- If the defendant is the only party appearing and is ready for trial, he or she may have the case dismissed because the plaintiff is not there to present the case
- If both parties are present but for any one of many reasons, are not ready to proceed, the court may grant a continuance to a future date
- If neither party is present and ready to proceed, the case may be declared “off calendar” or “dismissed”
When a civil matter goes to trial, each side presents their case; the plaintiff has the burden of proof and presents their side of the matter first, calling witnesses and presenting any evidence to prove their case. The witnesses are subject to cross-examination. The length of the trial varies greatly, depending on how many witnesses and the amount of evidence presented.
After all the evidence has been presented and each party has rested their cases, each party has the opportunity to make a closing argument. The matter is then submitted to the judge for decision. There are various types of judgment in a civil matter:
- Judgment for the plaintiff
- Judgment for the defendant
- Judgment for a cross-complainant against a cross-defendant
- A so-called “net judgment” where there is a cross-complaint and the judge finds for each party for a certain amount, but there is a balance remaining, a net amount which goes to the prevailing party
- An “off-set” judgment where each party gets nothing and each party bears their own costs
- Judgment of Dismissal - usually for lack of prosecution, the judge dismisses the plaintiff’s case against the defendant and the defendant may recover costs – this action is a judgment rather than a dismissal so that a writ or abstract may be issued to enforce the judgment for costs
The clerk is required to enter the judgment in the register of actions. (CCP 668.5) The clerk must send a Notice of Entry of Judgment (CCP 664.5) or a filed stamped copy of the judgment on cases in which the prevailing party is not represented by counsel. In cases where the prevailing party is represented by counsel, it is the responsibility of the attorney to execute the Notice of Entry of Judgment to all parties, together with proof of service by mail. The notice contains pertinent information as to the case title, case number, prevailing and losing parties and the amount of judgment.
Civil jury trials involve additional procedures due to the required jury fees, jury selection and the verdict. If either party demands a jury trial, that party must deposit jury fees at least 25 days before the trial date. Additional jury fees will likely be due and the amount depends on how long the trial lasts. (CCP 631 (5))
When the civil action is called for trial by jury, the clerk, or the judge where there is no clerk, must randomly select names of the jurors from the trial jury box of the court, or call names from a random computer listing of jurors, until the jury is selected or the panel is exhausted. The jury consists of 12 persons or any number less than 12 persons upon which the parties may agree. (CCP 219-222)
Proposed jury instructions are submitted to the court by counsel and discussed with the judge for any modifications before the trial begins. Jury Instructions are read to the jury before they retire for deliberation.
At the conclusion of all testimony, evidence, and submission of exhibits, the closing arguments are heard. Closing arguments are a summation of all information presented by each side, substantiating testimonies and evidence to prove their cases.
The jury is then retired for deliberation; the juror may take 3 things into the jury room:
- Jury instructions
- Exhibits admitted (CCP 612 and 612.5)
- Verdict slips prepared by the court clerk in advance. If a special verdict is necessary, counsel may be ordered to prepare it. When at least three-fourths of the jurors have agreed upon a verdict, the jurors then return to the courtroom. The clerk then reads the verdict aloud and the verdict is filed. Either party may ask the judge to “poll” the jury, which means each juror will be asked if this is their true verdict. (CCP 618)
In jury trials, recording of the verdict and judgment must be made in the court minutes and entered on the Register of Actions within 24 hours.
A plaintiff may file a request for dismissal for various reasons. (CCP 581 – 583.430) Some reasons may be: The plaintiff decides not to continue with the suit, the defendant pays the obligation the suit was based upon, the suit was filed in error, or the suit was filed in the wrong venue.
The dismissal can be filed with or without prejudice. If the dismissal is filed with prejudice the litigant cannot sue again on the same cause of action. If the dismissal is filed without prejudice, the litigant may file the suit again on the same cause of action as long as time has not run out or some other legal issue prevents it.
A dismissal may be filed as to one defendant, leaving the action to proceed against the remaining defendants. In some cases, a dismissal by court is mandatory if the plaintiff fails to bring the action to trial within 5 years after the action is commenced. (CCP 583.310)
If a party is unsatisfied with the judgment or order entered in a civil action, the party has a right to appeal. (CCP 901 and following) An appeal must meet the requirements in the Code of Civil Procedure and the California Rules of Court. An appeal, other than a limited civil case, is to the court of appeal. An appeal of a limited civil case is the appellate division of the Superior Court. The rules for appeals in limited civil cases are found in CRC 8.820 and following. The rules for appealing unlimited civil cases are found in the California Rules of Court 8.100 and following. Information on Internal Operating Procedures by the Appellate District can also be found in the California Rules of Court.
In a limited civil case, the time for filing the notice of appeal is the earliest of the following, except as otherwise provided by statute or rule:
- 30 days after the date of mailing by the clerk of the court of a document entitled “Notice of Entry” of judgment or appealable order
- 30 days after the date of service of a document entitled “Notice of Entry” of judgment or appealable order by any party upon the party filing the Notice of Appeal, or by the party filing the Notice of Appeal
- 90 days after the date of entry of the judgment
A file stamped copy of the judgment or appealable order may be used in place of the document entitled “Order of Entry.”
A filing fee for a Notice of Appeal must be paid at the time of filing, or within ten days thereafter. The Appellate Division of the Superior Court determines the appeal from the record sent up by the trial court, usually consisting of one or more of the following: Clerk’s Transcript, Reporter’s Transcript, Settled Statement, or Agreed Statement. Settled and Agreed Statements are signed by the court and constitute a brief description of what took place in the disputed case.
The Rules of Court describe the steps in the limited civil appeals process. Each step must be completed according to certain time limits. Failure to meet time requirements results in a default, which prevents the case from being heard in Superior Court. After the appeal is heard, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court files a remittitur (decision) with the trial court. Judgment affirmed means the judgment stands as rendered by the trial court. Judgment reversed means the judgment or order appealed from is no longer in force and is, in effect, vacated, and the status of the case reverts to that existing prior to the entry of the judgment of order. Depending on the outcome of the appeal, the court may set a hearing date or either party then move for a new trial. The case is returned to the control of the trial court once the remittitur is filed.
In an unlimited civil case, the time for filing the Notice of Appeal is the earliest of the following, except as otherwise provided by statute or rule:
- 60 days after the date of mailing by the clerk of the court of a document entitled “Notice of Entry” or judgment or appealable order
- 60 days after the date of service of a document entitled “Notice of Entry” of judgment or appealable order by any party upon the party filing the Notice of Appeal, or by the party filing the notice of appeal
- 180 days after the date of entry of the judgment
A file stamped copy of the judgment or appealable order may be used in place of the document entitled “Notice of Entry.”
A filing fee for Notice of Appeal must be paid at the time of filing, or within ten days thereafter. The Appellate Division of the Superior Court determines the appeal from the record sent up by the trial court, usually consisting of one or more of the following: Clerk’s Transcript, Reporter’s Transcript, Settled Statement or Agreed Statement. Settled and Agreed Statements are signed by the court and constitute a brief description of what took place in the disputed case.
The Rules of Court describe the steps in the unlimited civil appeals process. Each step must be completed according to certain time limits. Failure to meet time requirements result in a default, which prevents the case from being heard in the appellate division. After the Notice of Appeal is filed, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court prepares a packet for the district court of appeals. Once a decision is made on the appeal, the appeals court renders an opinion and subsequently files a remittitur (decision). A Certified copy of the opinion and remittitur is sent to the trial court. Judgment affirmed means the judgment or order appealed from stands as rendered by the trial court. Judgment reversed means the judgment or order appealed from is no longer in force, and is, in effect, vacated and the status of the case reverts to that existing prior to the entry of the judgment of order. Depending on the outcome of the appeal, the court may set a hearing date or either party may then move for a new trial. The case is remanded (returned) back to the control of the trial court once the remittitur is filed.
Delay Reduction/Fast Track Rules
The Government Code, California Rules of Court and Local Rules provide guidelines and rules to ensure that cases are handled in a timely manner and completed within certain time frames. (GC 68600, CRC 3.700 and following, and Local Rules 400-418). Delay reduction refers to a legislative act intended to expedite the management and processing of certain general civil cases from the time the first paper is filed, which begins the court’s jurisdiction, through the final disposition. Delay Reduction is formally called The Trial Court Delay Reduction Act and is often referred to as Fast Track. Delay reduction is intended by the legislature to maximize efficient use of the courts’ resources so that cases may be resolved consistent with the Standards of Timely Disposition adopted by the California Judicial Council for cases filed on or after January 1, 1991.
The purpose of the time standards imposed under the delay reduction act is to improve the administration of justice by encouraging prompt disposition of all matters coming before the courts. Parties of general civil matters are encouraged to proceed at an accelerated pace, especially in cases involving promissory notes, simple breach of contract, collection and any other cases susceptible to early disposition. Parties to an action and counsel are accountable for completing the preliminary steps of litigation, such as services of complaints, filing of proof of service, filing of cross-complaints and proof of service of cross-complaint as well as timely requests for default and default judgment.
Trial court delay reduction rules only apply to actions included in the classification of general civil and exceptional cases. They do not apply to such matters as Petitions for Preliminary Injunction or Petitions for Extraordinary Writs, Restraining Orders, Domestic Violence proceedings, Change of Name, Juvenile Court proceedings, Family Law Act proceedings, Uniform Child Custody Proceedings, Probate and Guardianship proceedings, Criminal actions, Unlawful Detainer and Small Claims cases.
Effective July 1, 2002 the Judicial Council adopted new rules on civil case management. The changes to the Rules of Court are designed to simplify case management procedures for the courts and practitioners. The newly revised rules should also result in greater uniformity of civil practice and reduced costs in litigation. The rules include a Judicial Council form Case Management Statement (form CM-110). This eliminates local case management questionnaire forms by county and provides a case management form that will be used statewide. The Case Management Statement may be submitted jointly if the parties choose, but joint submission is not required.
The defendant may contest or deny the allegations by filing a proper, legally sufficient written response with the court and posting the necessary fees within the statutory time allowed which is within 30 days of the date of personal service. If service was completed in a manner other than personal service, the time to respond may be extended by 10 days. For example, in substituted service, reasonable attempts must be made to serve the defendant in person, but if he or she cannot be found, then the documents may be served on a member of the household over 18 and mailed addressed to the defendant; then the defendant would have 40 days to file an answer or otherwise respond. The defendant must serve a copy of the response upon the plaintiff. A proof of service form or pleading must accompany the response when it is filed with the court.
There are many different types of responses ranging from a simple general denial form response or a form answer, to a comprehensive document drawn up by an attorney. A person can act as his/her own attorney (in pro per) in the prosecution or defense of a civil action, however in doing so, a pro per party is responsible for following the rules of court and do so at their own risk.
Concurrent with the filing of a response, the defendant may file a cross-complaint naming the plaintiff or another party in a countersuit for damages (CCP 422.10). A cross-complaint must be a separate document; it must arise out of the same cause of action; it can bring in a new party or parties other than the plaintiff and it must be served on the cross-defendant. A cross-complaint can be filed at any time before the court has set a date for trial, as long as the party is not cross-complaining against the party who sued them. If the cross-complaint is against the person who originally sued the cross-complainant, then the cross-complaint must be filed concurrently with the answer or the party must obtain leave of court in order to file cross-complaint at a date after the answer has been filed. (CCP 428.50) The time to answer a cross-complaint is within 30 days from service, unless the court orders an extension of time to plead.
The defendant(s) may file a demurrer to the complaint. The plaintiff may demurrer to the answer of the defendant(s) also. This is a pleading that objects to possible legal defects in the specified document objected to and a hearing on the Demurrer is held in the Law and Motion Court.
If the plaintiff who files the Complaint or the defendant who files the answer wishes to change the contents of his or her pleadings in some respect, he or she may do so before trial by filing either an amendment to the pleadings or an amended pleading pursuant to the statutes governing the ability to amend. (CCP 426.50, 471.5, 472, 473, 474)
Statute of Limitations
The time limit in which to file a case is called the statute of limitations and in regard to civil matters, the time limits vary and are cited in CCP 312 - 366.3.