Civil Litigation

Introduction

This webpage was prepared to help you understand the process of a civil lawsuit.

A civil lawsuit may arise in a variety of situations. For example, a dispute may arise regarding the sale of a house or business, the obligations owed under a contract, or the services promised by a business.

Commencing a Lawsuit

Parties, Courts & Service of Process

The party who initiates a lawsuit is referred to as the plaintiff. A plaintiff begins a suit by serving, or delivering, a summons and complaint to the defendant. This is referred to as Service of Process.

The summons and complaint notify the defendant that a suit has been brought. The complaint also briefly describes the claim against the defendant and the damages sought.

A defendant must respond to the summons and complaint served by the plaintiff. The defendant's responses are called an answer. The answer will admit or deny all the allegations contained in the complaint. The answer may also raise certain defenses to the claim.

A plaintiff may bring an action either in Federal or State Court. There are special restrictions on which cases may be brought in Federal Court. In general, most actions are brought in State Court.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

In December 1993, the Minnesota Supreme Court adopted Rule 114, which requires that parties and their attorneys, in some civil cases, utilize one of the methods of Alternative Dispute Resolution in an attempt to resolve their case prior to further litigation.

Alternative Dispute Resolution includes the use of Arbitration, Mediation, Early Neutral Evaluation, Consensual Special Magistrate, Mediation-Arbitration, Mini-Trial, Moderated Settlement Conference, Neutral Fact Finding, Summary Jury Trial, or combinations of any of these.

Motions

After the complaint is served and answered, a party may want to bring a motion allowing a party to request relief from the court before the trial begins. For example, if the plaintiff believes that the defendant lacks any defense to the plaintiff's claim, the plaintiff can ask the court to rule for the plaintiff without going through the full trial process.

Conferences and Hearings

Conferences and hearings before the judge will periodically occur during the period before the trial. The conferences and hearings allow the judge to decide preliminary matters, set a time schedule for the proceedings, and discuss settlement with the parties.

Discovery

Discovery refers to the process through which attorneys discover the important information necessary to the case. Information may be discovered through written questions, documents and other physical materials, medical examinations, and oral questioning under oath. A party may also request an admission from the opposing party that a fact is true.

Trial

Most cases will settle during the long process detailed above. However, if a case does not settle, it will go to trial. The trial may be before a judge or before a jury. In most cases, the person who brings the suit may decide whether the case is heard before a judge or a jury. Factors to consider in making this determination include the complexity of the case and the personal wishes of the party. Regardless of whether the case is heard before a judge or jury, the judge will always decide the legal questions involved in the case. The jury, when present, decides questions regarding disputed facts of the case.

Appeal

In most cases, a party may choose to appeal after the court has entered a final judgment. There are various legal restrictions on what can be appealed and when it must be appealed. Factors to consider in deciding whether to appeal include the cost of continuing legal action, the extent of the loss in trial court, the probability of having the judgment overturned, and the wishes of the party.

Consult legal counsel to determine the applicability of the information in this website to your circumstances. The information contained in this website is not intended to provide legal advice to you and you should not rely on this information other than to obtain a general understanding of the concepts and terms discussed.