Summary Review of Court Systems -
Structure of Civil Courts
Arkansas city courts have been consolidated with district courts and now exist as a department of their respective district courts. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-17-1202. Most counties have only one district court served by one presiding judge, but some counties have more than one district court and judge. Ark. Code Ann. §§ 16-17-902, 904. Arkansas also has county courts over which county judges preside. Ark. Code Ann. §§ 14-14-1001 et seq.
The Supreme Court of Arkansas is authorized to create four subject matter divisions in the district courts: civil, small claims, criminal, and traffic. Ark. Const. Amend. 80, §7. The designation of divisions is for the purpose of judicial administration and caseload management and is not for the purpose of subject-matter jurisdiction.
There are 28 circuit court districts in Arkansas, and the primary judicial work is handled in circuit courts. There are 75 counties in Arkansas. The number of circuit courts per county range from 1 – 17. Appeals from the circuit court go either to the Arkansas Court of Appeals or to the Arkansas Supreme Court in limited circumstance.
Basis of Jurisdiction
The Arkansas district courts are trial courts with limited, county-wide jurisdiction. AR Const. Amend. 80, §7. If the judges of a particular district court are chosen by voters in a smaller geographic unit, such as a city, then the court’s territorial jurisdiction does not extend beyond that area. The local district courts have exclusive jurisdiction where the amount in controversy does not exceed $100, and concurrent jurisdiction with the circuit courts in matters of contract, recovery of personal property, and damage to personal property where the amount in controversy (or value of property in recovery actions) does not exceed $5,000. AR R S CT ADMIN Order 18(3).
In addition to the powers and duties of a district court under Administrative Order 18, the Arkansas state district courts have original, exclusive jurisdiction in matters of contract where the amount in controversy does not exceed $100, and original, concurrent jurisdiction with the circuit court in matters of contract, recovery of personal property, and damage to personal property where the amount in controversy (or value of property in recovery actions) does not exceed $25,000. AR R S CT ADMIN Order 18(6).
The county courts have exclusive original jurisdiction of matters relating to county taxes, roads, bridges, ferries, paupers, bastardy, vagrants, the apprenticeship of minors, the disbursement of money for county purposes, and in every other case that may be necessary to the internal improvement and local concerns of the respective counties. Ark. Const. Art. 7, § 28. There are several nuanced exceptions to this list.
Claims for costs, attorneys’ fees and interest are not included when determining whether the amount in controversy falls within the court’s jurisdiction.
The Arkansas circuit courts are no longer divided between courts of law and courts of equity. Ark. Const. Amend. 80. Circuit courts are the trial courts of original jurisdiction of all justiciable matters in the state not otherwise assigned pursuant to the State Constitution. Ark. Const. Amend. 80, §6.
There are no jury trials in the district or county courts, but the constitutional guarantee of trial by jury is preserved because a litigant has the right to demand a jury upon appeal to circuit court, where the case is tried de novo. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-17-703.
The Arkansas Court of Appeals has appellate jurisdiction as the Supreme Court by rule determines. Ark. Const. Amend. 80, §5. According to these rules, all cases appealed shall be filed in the Court of Appeals except that the following cases shall be filed in the Supreme Court: 1) all appeals involving the interpretation or construction of the Constitution of Arkansas; 2) criminal appeals in which the death penalty or life imprisonment has been imposed; 3) petitions for quo warranto, prohibition, injunction, or mandamus directed to the state, county, or municipal officials or to circuit courts; 4) appeals pertaining to elections and election procedures; 5) appeals involving the discipline of attorneys-at-law and or arising under the power of the Supreme Court to regulate the practice of law; 6) appeals involving the discipline and disability of judges; 7) second or subsequent appeals following an appeal which has been decided in the Supreme Court; and 8) appeals required by law to be heard by the Supreme Court. AR R S CT Rule 1-2.
In addition to the appellate cases listed directly above which must be filed in the Supreme Court, the Arkansas Supreme Court has statewide appellate jurisdiction, and original jurisdiction to: 1) issue writs of quo warranto to all persons holding judicial office, and to officers of political corporations when the question involved is the legal existence of such corporations; 2) answer questions of state law certified by a court of the United States; 3) determine sufficiency of state initiative and referendum petitions and proposed constitutional amendments; and 4) only such other original jurisdiction as provided by the State Constitution. Ark. Const. Amend. 80, §2.
Arkansas has not established specialized commercial courts.
Each circuit and appellate court is authorized to order mediation in any civil, juvenile, probate or domestic relations case. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-7-202(b). The court can order mediation for the purpose of encouraging, but not compelling, settlement. A party may move the court to dispense with mediation for good cause shown, including, but not limited to, the party’s inability to pay the costs. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-7-202(d). Parties ordered to mediate can choose a mediator from the Arkansas Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission Roster or, with approval of the court, someone who is not on the roster. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-7-202(c). Each court is further granted the discretionary authority to make at the request of a party appropriate orders to confirm and enforce the results produced by the dispute resolution process. Ark. Code Ann. § 16-7-202(e).
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