Lawson Persson Weldon-Francke Law Firm Laconia NH

Plaintiffs and Defendants

Frequently Asked Questions – Civil Litigation

  1. What is civil litigation?
  2. What is alternative dispute resolution (ADR)?
  3. What are the steps in a civil litigation case?
  4. What is discovery?
  5. Will my case be heard in federal court or state court?
  6. Which state court will decide my case?

Q:        What is civil litigation?

A:         Civil litigation describes the process of resolving disputes through a lawsuit filed in court.  The party bringing a lawsuit is the plaintiff and the party who has been sued is the defendant.  A civil litigation case is different from a criminal case in that a civil case is usually brought by a private party, while a criminal case is brought by a government prosecutor.  Civil cases also differ from criminal cases in that the plaintiff’s objective in a civil case is to obtain a money judgment or a court order requiring a party to act (or refrain from acting) in a certain way, while in a criminal case, the prosecutor generally seeks a sanction such as a fine or an order of probation or incarceration.

Q:        What is alternative dispute resolution (ADR)?

A:         Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) describes the use of methods to resolve disputes outside of the court process.  The most common forms of ADR are negotiation, mediation and arbitration.  Negotiation is simply engaging in discussion to reach an agreement. Nearly all cases are the subject of some negotiation.  Mediation is a facilitated negotiation in which the parties and the mediator come together to discuss the case and try to reach an agreement. The mediator does not render a decision; he or she simply assists the parties in reaching an out-of-court settlement.  If the parties cannot reach a decision, the matter may have to be resolved by the court.  Arbitration is the process of having a neutral party hear a dispute and render a decision.  Some contracts have an arbitration clause requiring the parties to arbitrate their dispute rather than take it to court.  Arbitration may be either binding or non-binding.  If the arbitration is binding, the decision of the arbitrator is final and may be enforced by a court order.

Q:        What are the steps in a civil litigation case?

A:         The first step in a civil action is the pleading stage, where the plaintiff files a complaint and the defendant responds with an answer. The parties then engage in discovery, where the parties exchange information and documents.  The parties may engage at any time in motion practice, where they file motions to have legal issues decided by the court.  The case then proceeds to trial by either a judge or a jury.  Following a decision by the court, the case may be appealed.

Q:        What is discovery?

A:         Discovery is the process by which the parties exchange information and documents under oath prior to trial.  The basic forms of discovery in civil litigation cases are interrogatories, requests for production, request for admissions, depositions, and subpoenas. Interrogatories are a set of written questions that a party must respond to in writing and under oath.  A request for production is a formal request to turn over certain documents or other evidence to the other side.  A request for admission is a written statement sent to a party to which the party must, under oath, admit as true or deny as false. A deposition is when a party is questioned under oath and the questions and answers are transcribed by a court stenographer.  A subpoena is an order requiring persons who are not parties to the case to participate in this discovery process.  These forms of discovery are initiated at the request of a party.  In some cases, the rules of court require the parties to exchange information and documents to each other automatically, without the need for a request by the other side.
 
Q:        Will my case be heard in federal court or state court?

A:         Whether your case will be heard in federal court or state court involves a number of factors.  In general, the federal courts have jurisdiction over cases involving federal law, certain disputes in which the parties are citizens of different states, matters involving intellectual property, such as patent, copyright, and trademark disputes, and bankruptcy matters.  Most other disputes are heard in state court.

Q:        Which state court will decide my case?

A:         This depends on a number of factors, including the type of case filed, the amount of the dispute, and whether the case will be tried before a jury.  The New Hampshire trial court system is divided into the Circuit Court and the Superior Court.  The Circuit Court is further divided into the District Division, the Family Division, and the Probate Division.  The District Division handles cases involving small claims matters, landlord-tenant matters, and other civil cases not brought in Superior Court.  The Family Division handles cases involving divorce/parenting, child support, domestic violence petitions, guardianship of minors, termination of parental rights, abuse/neglect cases, children in need of services, juvenile delinquency, and some adoptions.  The Probate Division handles matters related to wills, trusts and estates, guardianships and involuntary commitment proceedings, adoptions, name changes and partition of real estate.  The Superior Court hears civil cases in which the damage claims exceed $25,000 as well as cases with a minimum claim of $1,500 in damages in which a party requests a jury trial.  The Superior Court also hears cases involving requests for injunctive relief, disputes over title to real estate, petitions to enforce contracts, and appeals from zoning and planning board decisions.  All cases are assigned to court locations based on the location of the parties or the location of property in dispute.

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