Summary Review of Court Systems -
Structure of Civil Courts
The Georgia court system has three classes of trial-level civil courts: the superior, state, and magistrate courts.
Basis of Jurisdiction
Superior Court – The superior court exercises broad civil jurisdiction and its judges have exclusive jurisdiction over divorces, equity cases, and cases regarding title to land. The forty-nine superior court circuits in Georgia are made up of one or more counties; each circuit has a chief superior court judge and other judges as authorized by the General Assembly.
State Court – State courts exercise limited jurisdiction within one county. These judges try civil matters not reserved exclusively for the superior courts.
Magistrate Court – Magistrate courts are county courts that try civil claims involving amounts of $15,000 or less. Magistrate court is the court of first resort for many civil disputes including: county ordinance violations, dispossessories, landlord/tenant cases, and bad checks. No jury trials are held in magistrate court; civil cases are often argued by the parties themselves, rather than by attorneys. Appeals are made to the Superior Court.
Statewide Business Court – The Georgia Statewide Business court’s (“GBC”) docket is slated to begin accepting cases on August 1, 2020. The GBC court will have the authority to hear claims involving the Uniform Commercial Code, the Georgia Uniform Securities Act, the Georgia Business Corporation Code, Georgia Trade Securities Act, and other business disputes. The court also has supplemental jurisdiction over all related pending claims. However, the court is restricted to commercial disputes in which more than $500,000 is in controversy. The GBC also shares equity jurisdiction with Superior Courts in commercial disputes, though there is no amount in controversy requirement in those cases. Some of the ways the court plans to facilitate pretrial proceedings include early case management, regular status conferences, a focus on technology, and clear and concise rules. The GBC will conduct virtual and telephonic hearings as needed. The court will handle pre-trial proceedings from a courtroom in the new Nathan Deal Judicial Center in Atlanta, Georgia as well as from facilities at Mercer Law School in Macon, Georgia. If a case requires a jury trial, that will occur in a county where venue would be appropriate under the Georgia constitution’s typical framework.
Metro Atlanta Business Case Division – The Metro Atlanta Business Case Division is open to complex commercial and business cases filed in Fulton Superior, Fulton State, Gwinnett Superior and Gwinnett State Courts. Cases eligible to be heard in the Business Case Division must implicate one or more of the following: Georgia Securities Act of 1973, O.C.G.A. §10-5-1; UCC, O.C.G.A. §11-1-101; Georgia Business Corporation Code, O.C.G.A. §14-2-101; Uniform Partnership Act, O.C.G.A. §14-8-1; Uniform Limited Partnership Act, O.C.G.A. §14-9A-1; Georgia Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act, O.C.G.A. §14-9-100; Georgia Limited Liability Company Act, O.C.G.A. §14-11-100; Georgia International Commercial Arbitration Code, O.C.G.A. §9-9-20. In addition, Any other action that the parties and the Court believe warrants assignment to the Business Case Division, including large contract and business tort cases and other complex commercial litigation, where the value of the relief sought is at least one million dollars.
Cases involving personal injury, wrongful death, employment discrimination, or low-dollar consumer class action claims, however, are excluded from the Business Case Division unless all parties’ consent to the transfer. Cases may be transferred to the Business Case Division upon the request of the assigned Judge or upon the motion of one party.
The Georgia Constitution of 1983 mandates that the judicial branch of government provide “speedy, efficient, and inexpensive resolution of disputes and prosecutions.” The Georgia Commission on Dispute Resolution (“GCDR”) manages a statewide system that offers alternatives to traditional litigation, including mediation, non-binding arbitration, and case evaluation. Each court in Georgia is encouraged, but not required, to participate in the ADR processes developed by the GCDR. Any contested civil case may be referred to mediation by the judge to whom the case is assigned. In addition, any party to a dispute may petition the court to refer the case to mediation. While a party may be ordered to attend a mediation session, the order mandating attendance must clearly state that compliance does not require settlement. Mediation is confidential both by law and by agreement. However, if parties reach a settlement agreement, the written and executed agreement or memorandum of agreement is not subject to confidentiality, unless all parties to the proceeding agree so in writing.
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