Summary Review of Court Systems -
Structure of Civil Courts
Depending primarily on the amount in controversy, civil litigation in Alabama is conducted in either Circuit or District Courts. Alabama is divided into 41 Judicial Circuits. In most circuits, the judges do not handle exclusively civil cases. Pursuant to ALA CODE § 12-11-30, Circuit Courts have exclusive original jurisdiction of all civil actions in which the matter in controversy exceeds twenty thousand dollars ($20,000), exclusive of interest and costs, and exercises original jurisdiction concurrent with the District Court in all civil actions in which the matter in controversy exceeds six thousand dollars ($6,000), exclusive of interest and costs.
Pursuant to Ala. R. Civ. P. 38, litigants in Circuit Court may demand a jury trial, but the right may be waived if not demanded within 30 days after service of “the last pleading directed to such issue.” This is generally interpreted to mean Defendants should include a jury demand in their Answer if Plaintiff has not made one. Pursuant to ALA CODE §12-12-3, all cases in the District Court are tried by the judge, who determines all issues of law and fact without a jury. There are also limitations in District Court on the initiation of discovery without seeking approval of the Court.
Pursuant to ALA CODE § 12-12-31, the District court exercises exclusive jurisdiction over all civil actions in which the matter in controversy, exclusive of interest and costs, does not exceed six thousand dollars ($6,000). These actions are placed on a small claims docket by each District Court and are processed according to uniform rules of simplified civil procedure.
The Circuit Court also has appellate jurisdiction of civil, criminal, and juvenile cases in District Court and prosecutions for ordinance violations in municipal courts, except in cases in which direct appeal to the Courts of Civil or Criminal Appeals is provided by law or rule. Appeals to the Circuit Court shall be tried de novo, with or without a jury, as provided by law.
District, Circuit and Appellate judges are elected to six-year terms. The elections are partisan. The Alabama Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and eight associate justices.
Basis of Jurisdiction
Appeals of Circuit Court judgments in civil cases may be heard by either the Alabama Supreme Court or the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. The jurisdiction of the Alabama Supreme Court is detailed in ALA CODE §12-2-7, but an initial distinction is the nature of the appeal and the amount of a monetary judgment. Pursuant to ALA CODE §12-3-10, the Court of Civil Appeals has exclusive appellate jurisdiction of all civil cases where the amount involved, exclusive of interest and costs, does not exceed $50,000, as well as all appeals from administrative agencies other than the Alabama Public Service Commission, all appeals in workers’ compensation cases, all appeals in domestic relations cases, including annulment, divorce, adoption, and child custody cases and all extraordinary writs arising from appeals in said cases. Subject to certain exceptions. the Alabama Supreme Court can transfer an appeal to the Court of Civil Appeals.
Alabama does not have a separate “commercial court.”
Mediation is governed by ALA. CODE § 6-6-20 and the Alabama Civil Court Mediation Rules. Mediation is mandatory for all parties in the following instances: (1) At any time where all parties agree. (2) Upon motion by any party. The party asking for mediation shall pay the costs of mediation, except attorney fees, unless otherwise agreed. (3) In the event no party requests mediation, the trial court may, on its own motion, order mediation. The trial court may allocate the costs of mediation, except attorney fees, among the parties. If any party fails to mediate as required by this section, the court may apply such sanctions as it deems appropriate pursuant to Rule 37 of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure.
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