Summary Review of Court Systems -
Structure of Civil Courts
There are two primary levels of Indiana state courts: trial courts and appellate courts. In Indiana, generally, there are three different kinds of trial courts: county Circuit courts, county Superior courts, and local city or town courts. Indiana Circuit and Superior courts have concurrent jurisdiction in all civil cases and in all criminal cases. They also have appellate jurisdiction over appeals from city and town courts. (Ind. Code § 33-35). There are also small claims courts that differ in operation depending on the county. For example, Marion County (Indianapolis) has its own township-level small claims courts. Most other counties, however, have the small claims docket run through the Superior courts.
Indiana has two main appellate courts – the Court of Appeals of Indiana (“Court of Appeals”) and the Supreme Court of Indiana (“Supreme Court”). The Court of Appeals has no original jurisdiction except as authorized by Supreme Court rules to directly review final decisions of certain administrative agencies. Parties have an automatic right to appeal but do not have a guaranteed oral argument. (Ind. Code § 33-25). The Supreme Court is the court of last resort.
Basis of Jurisdiction
Small Claims Court: The court has original and concurrent jurisdiction with the Circuit and Superior courts in all civil cases founded on contract or tort in which the debt or damage claimed does not exceed eight thousand dollars ($8,000), excluding interest or attorney fees; original and concurrent jurisdiction with the Circuit and Superior courts in possessory actions between landlord and tenant in which the past due rent at time of filing does not exceed eight thousand dollars ($8,000); and original and concurrent jurisdiction with the Circuit and Superior courts in actions for possession of property where value of property sought to be recovered does not exceed eight thousand dollars ($8,000). (Ind. Code § 33-33). Additionally, the Indiana Small Claims Rules require that claims exceeding one thousand five hundred dollars ($1,500.00) must be defended or presented by counsel. (Ind. Small Claims Rule 8(C)(3)).
Town and City Courts: Town courts have exclusive jurisdiction of all violations of town ordinances and jurisdiction of all misdemeanors and infractions. All City courts have jurisdiction of city ordinance violations, misdemeanors, and infractions. (Ind. Code § 33-35).
Circuit Court: Indiana’s 92 counties make up 91 judicial circuits (Ohio and Dearborn counties are in a “joint” circuit). Several counties have removed the distinctions between Circuit and Superior courts. The Circuit courts have concurrent jurisdiction in all civil cases and in all criminal cases. (Ind. Code § 33-28).
Superior Court: The organization of Superior Courts vary from county to county. The Superior Courts have original and concurrent jurisdiction in all civil cases and in all criminal cases. (Ind. Code § 33-29).
Court of Appeals: The Court of Appeals divides Indiana into five districts. The Court of Appeals has no original jurisdiction except as authorized by Supreme Court rules to review directly final decisions of certain administrative agencies. It has jurisdiction over all appeals not taken to the Supreme Court. (Ind. Code § 33-25).
Indiana Tax Courts: There is one Tax court in Indianapolis, but a taxpayer may elect to have all evidentiary hearings conducted in one of seven other specifically designated counties. The Tax court has exclusive jurisdiction in original tax appeals, which are defined as cases that arise under the tax laws of Indiana and which are initial appeals of a final determination made by the Department of State Revenue of the State Board of Tax Commissioners. Appeals from the Tax court are taken directly to the Supreme Court. (Ind. Code § 33-26).
Indiana Supreme Court: There are five justices that sit on the Indiana Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has the power to review and revise sentences imposed by lower courts. The Supreme Court exercises original exclusive jurisdiction set forth in Ind. Code § 33-24.
Six Indiana Commercial courts are permanently established in Allen, Elkhart, Floyd, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties. Commercial court judges have clerks to help them address motions and other issues. Therefore, Commercial courts typically rule on motions quickly, which encourages efficient litigation.
Jurisdiction is limited to actions set forth in Rules 2 and 3 of the Commercial Court Rules. Any civil case, including any jury case, non-jury case, injunction, temporary restraining order, class action, declaratory judgment, or derivative action that relates to disputes between business entities; rights, obligations, and formation of a business entities; and trade secret and non-compete agreements, is eligible to bring before the Commercial court. Common cases not proper to bring before the Commercial court include personal injury cases, consumer claims, and administrative claims, among others.
Venue is proper in any case in a Commercial court as long as it’s a case properly before the Court. In other words, a case that has preferred venue (under traditional venue rules) in Hamilton County can be filed in the Marion Commercial Court, as it is the closest Commercial Court.
There are special procedures set forth in the Commercial Court Rules that are designed to efficiently advance the litigation, including the following:
- Discovery: Discovery must be relevant to a claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case. This rule can be used to limit costly requests for electronic data.
- Initial Disclosures: There are also specific requirements for initial disclosures and rules that specifically address of electronically stored information practice.
- Case Management Conference: The court holds an initial case management conference 30 to 60 days after the case is filed to discuss the issues to create a plan that will expeditiously move the case forward.
The Commercial courts also have broader powers than traditional state courts to appoint special masters to address issues requiring technical knowledge.
Some Indiana county courts have programs for low-cost or no-cost mediation services to families who are involved in divorce or paternity cases and are unable to pay for private mediators. Mediators are governed by the Indiana Rules for Alternative Dispute Resolution. The court may set an hourly rate for mediation and determine the division of such costs by the parties. Unless otherwise agreed, the parties shall pay their mediation costs within thirty (30) days after the close of each mediation session. Some counties, including Marion (Indianapolis) – require mediation prior to trial of civil matters.
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