Summary Review of Court Systems -
Structure of Civil Courts
Maine’s state principal courts are:
A. The District Court, where civil actions, and family law matters may be tried without jury trials. The District Court presently has 38 judges who hold court in eight (8) judicial regions which include 29 courts located throughout Maine. A plaintiff who has a right to trial by jury in a civil action waives the right by bringing the action in District Court; a defendant with a right to a civil jury may remove the action to a Superior Court for jury trial. Most decisions of the District Court may be appealed directly to the Supreme Judicial Court, except for small claims and forcible entry and detainer case;
B. The Superior Court, which consists of 17 justices who hold court at regular intervals in each of Maine’s 16 counties. Except for family matters, the Superior Court may hear almost any kind of civil case that may be brought to trial. The Superior Court is the only court that uses juries; and,
C. The Supreme Judicial Court, which is the State’s highest court and the court of final appeal. The Court’s primary function is to decide appeals on questions of law that arise in civil actions and criminal trials. Questions of law are presented to the Court when a case is appealed from a trial court. Opinions are published and become binding on all the Maine courts when they adjudicate similar disputes. In its appellate capacity (as interpreter of the laws), the Court is called the Law Court.
Maine also has Probate Courts, which are a function of county government, for questions involving estates and similar matters.
Basis of Jurisdiction
The authority for the civil jurisdiction of the Maine District Court may be found in 4 M.R.S. §152.
The authority for the civil jurisdiction of the Maine Superior Court may be found in 4 M.R.S. §105.
The authority for the general jurisdiction of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court may be found in 4 M.R.S. §7.
The Business and Consumer Court is a statewide docket comprised of selected actions involving business and/or consumer disputes, and is managed by two judges from either trial court designated by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. The Business and Consumer Court provides predictable judicial action in selected cases involving business and or consumer disputes, avoids placing unnecessary burdens on the court and the litigants in such cases, keeps litigation costs reasonable, and promotes an effective and efficient process for resolving such disputes. Cases that may be considered for transfer to the Business and Consumer Court are jury and nonjury civil actions and family matters that do not involve children, in which (1) the principal claim or claims involve matters of significance to the transactions, operation or governance of a business entity and/or the rights of a consumer arising out of transactions or other dealings with a business entity, AND (2) the case requires specialized and differentiated judicial management.
The Maine Judicial Branch was an early pioneer in providing mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in the courts and continues to support the use of ADR in many different types of cases. Today, ADR is available through the Maine courts in Family Matters, Small Claims, evictions, civil and commercial cases, and in land use and environmental disputes. In some types of cases, the parties must participate in some form of ADR before they can proceed to a contested hearing. The Office of Court ADR maintains statewide rosters of neutrals who can provide mediation, arbitration, or early neutral evaluation in court cases.
By way of example: Rule 16B of the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure governs ADR in Superior Court cases and provides in pertinent part:
All parties to any civil action filed in or removed to the Superior Court, except actions exempt in accordance with subsection (b) of this rule, shall, within 60 days of the date of the Rule 16(a) scheduling order, schedule an alternative dispute resolution conference which conference shall be held and completed within 120 days of the date of the Rule 16(a) scheduling order. By agreement of all parties, reported to the court in writing within 120 days of the date of the Rule 16(a) scheduling order, the time for the completion of the alternative dispute resolution conference shall be extended for a period not to exceed 180 days from the date of the Rule 16(a) scheduling order.
For More Information:
- Business Litigation
- Construction Law
- Hospitality & Retail
- Insurance Law
- International Law and Corporate Transactions Business Guides
- Labor & Employment
- Product Liability & Complex Torts
- Professional Liability
- Transportation Law
- Workers' Compensation