Summary Review of Court Systems -
Structure of Civil Courts
Mississippi has several types of civil courts at the state court level. These courts include Circuit, Chancery, County, Justice, and Youth Courts. Mississippi is divided into 22 Circuit and 20 Chancery Court districts, with the majority of these districts consisting of multiple counties each.
Below the Circuit and Chancery Court level are the County Courts (22 in total). County Courts exist only in larger Counties. See Miss. Code Ann. § 9-9-1. County Courts have some element of concurrent jurisdiction with both Circuit and Justice Courts.
Mississippi has a Youth Court in every County. The County Court Judge, in Counties where one exists, serves as the Youth Court Judge, while the Chancery Court Judge does so in Counties where there is no County Court.
There is one Justice Court in each of Mississippi’s 82 Counties. Justice Courts have jurisdiction over civil claims involving disputes of $3,500 or less.
Mississippi’s civil courts also include the federal district courts in the Northern and Southern Districts of Mississippi.
Basis of Jurisdiction
Circuit Courts have jurisdiction over civil disputes in excess of $200 and all felonies, and they serve as appellate courts for matters appealed from County and Justice Courts, as well as decisions made by County Boards of Supervisors, municipal authorities, and other similar tribunals. See Miss. Code Ann. § 9-7-81.
Chancery Courts have jurisdiction over all matters in equity, divorce and alimony, matters testamentary and of administration, minor’s business, cases of idiocy, lunacy, and persons of unsound mind, and matters involving real estate. See Miss. Const., Article VI, §§ 159-160; Miss. Code Ann. § 9-5-81.
County Courts have jurisdiction over civil matters involving disputes of no more than $200,000. See Miss. Code Ann. § 9-9-21. County Courts’ jurisdiction overlaps that of both Circuit Courts (which have jurisdiction over matters ranging from $200 in value to $200,000 and greater) and that of Justice Courts (which have jurisdiction over matters involving disputes of less than $3,500).
Youth Courts have jurisdiction over proceedings involving delinquent children, children in need of supervision, neglected children, abused children, and similar matters. See Miss. Code Ann. § 42-21-151. Youth Courts are not traditional civil courts in that they do not adjudicate claims over damages. Matters in Youth Court, instead, center around the welfare of children.
Justice Courts, as noted above, have jurisdiction over civil matters not exceeding $3,500 in value. See Miss. Code Ann. § 9-11-9.
Cases in Circuit and County Court are generally decided by juries, with the exception of matters involving governmental entities, in which case trial is by judge only. Cases in the other civil courts are typically decided solely by the judge, although parties may request a jury. The overwhelming majority of traditional civil matters in state court are filed and handled through the Circuit and County Court system. Litigants may also file suits in Mississippi’s federal courts on the basis of original or diversity jurisdiction and/or defendants remove suits filed in state court to federal court, where permissible. Removal is a valuable and often-used tool in defense counsel’s arsenal in certain venues in Mississippi.
Mississippi has not established specialized commercial courts. Some commercial contracts require disputes to be referred to arbitration which may be before an arbitrator or panel with specific experience tailored to business disputes.
All civil cases shall be considered appropriate for referral to mediation in the discretion of the court based upon the specific circumstances of the case. Any circuit, chancery or county court either on its own motion or upon the motion of any party may determine that a case is appropriate for mediation. MS. Court Annexed Mediation Rules for Civil Litigation. As a practical matter, most state circuit courts require mediation before trial. Even when not required, parties often agree to mediation to save the expense and minimize the risk of trial. In state courts, whether mediation is court ordered or voluntary, the parties are responsible for selecting a mediator. In cases where mediation is court ordered, the mediator is required to report to the court whether the case was settled. Typically, the attorneys and client representative with settlement authority are required to attend mediations in person unless the parties have agreed to telephonic participation.
Federal courts may schedule a settlement conference which is conducted by the Magistrate Judge. L.U. Civ. R. 16(g) Northern and Southern Districts of Mississippi. The court may also order mediation in addition to, or in lieu of, a settlement conference. Lead counsel and a representative of each party with full settlement authority must appear at the settlement conference unless telephonic participation is approved in advance. Settlement conferences are not mandatory in every case and are often used if the parties or the magistrate judge believe the conference with be helpful. If private mediation is ordered or agreed upon by the parties, the parties are responsible for selecting a mediator.
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