Summary Review of Court Systems -
Structure of Civil Courts
California has generally three forms of state courts, Superior Court, Limited Jurisdiction Courts, and Small Claims Courts. Superior Courts are courts of General Jurisdiction. Most counties have courts of Limited Jurisdiction with a maximum recovery of $25,000.00, with modified procedural requirements, and limited discovery between parties. Finally, California has small claims cases, which are courts of Limited Jurisdiction, that have a maximum recovery of $10,000.00, and which generally do not allow the parties to be represented by attorneys. California also has courts that specialize in unlawful detainers, probate, family, and criminal matters.
Basis of Jurisdiction
California Courts exercise personal jurisdiction over California residents, and non-residents who have a constitutionally-sufficient contact or relationship with California to permit California courts to render a valid judgment. If the issue is a federal question, then the Courts will determine if the federal jurisdiction is “exclusive” or “concurrent”, or if federal law pre-empts California law.
California has 58 counties, and courts are divided by county. Local Court rules control in which district a case must be brought. There are venue rules to give defendants some protection as to forum. Contractual venue provisions are generally enforceable in non-consumer cases but this is an evolving area of the law. Objections to venue can be waived if not asserted by the defendant.
There are significant differences between different counties. Los Angeles County has twelve geographic districts, and under its local rules, some types of actions must be filed in certain districts, while other types may be filed in multiple districts.
There are special rules applicable to certain types of cases, such as condemnation actions, or other actions involving real property, where venue may be found to be jurisdictional.
California has no commercial courts.
California encourages mediation between parties but in most types of cases, pre-litigation mediation is not mandatory.
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