Summary Review of Court Systems -


1. Structure of Civil Courts

Missouri has three different levels of courts: the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and circuit courts. V.A.M.S. 477.040-477.070. The Missouri Court of Appeals is divided into three different districts: the Eastern District, the Western District, and the Southern District. Id.
Circuit courts in Missouri are courts of general jurisdiction of all civil and criminal matters and hear most of the cases and controversies in the state. Each circuit court is divided into five separate divisions as follows: associate division, circuit division, municipal division, probate division, and juvenile division. The associate division is primarily responsible for civil actions under $15,000 and other small claims. The circuit division handles cases involving civil actions over $15,000, felonies and misdemeanors, and includes Missouri’s special courts. These special courts are also referred to as treatment courts, which were established to provide individuals with either substance abuse, mental illness, or behavioral problems extended treatment under close supervision. The six different treatment courts in Missouri are adult drug, juvenile, family, mental health, DWI, and veterans. The municipal division primarily handles municipal traffic violations and municipal ordinance violations. The probate division hears cases involving issues such as guardianships and decedents’ estates. The juvenile division typically hears criminal cases committed by minors and civil matters related to juveniles. There is a circuit court contained within each county in Missouri and it may have more than one if the caseload demands it. These counties are then placed into forty-six (46) different judicial circuits.

2. Basis of Jurisdiction

Missouri’s circuit courts have “original jurisdiction over all cases and matters, civil and criminal,” and the circuit judges and associate circuit judges can “hear and determine all cases and matters within the jurisdiction of their circuit courts.” V.A.M.S. 478.070, 478.220. An associate circuit judge can hear all civil cases, misdemeanor cases, and the preliminary hearing for felony cases. Missouri Courts: Circuit Court Judges and Commissioners (May 29, 2020).
The Missouri Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court and has appellate jurisdiction over any civil or criminal matter that (1) the Supreme Court of Missouri does not have exclusive appellate jurisdiction over and (2) has been decided in a Missouri circuit court. Missouri Courts: Missouri Court of Appeals (May 29, 2020). Decisions made by the Missouri Court of Appeals that are not heard on appeal by the Supreme Court of Missouri are binding on all circuit courts throughout Missouri.
The Supreme Court of Missouri has exclusive jurisdiction to hear five different types of cases on appeal as follows: (1) the constitutionality of a United States statute or treaty, (2) the constitutionality of a Missouri statute or constitutional provision, (3) the validity of Missouri revenue laws, (4) any challenge to a Missouri elected officials right to their position, and (5) impositions of the death penalty by a Missouri Court. The Supreme Court of Missouri also has discretionary appellate jurisdiction over all other civil and criminal matters heard by the Missouri Court of Appeals in any of its three districts. The Supreme Court of Missouri is the court of last resort in Missouri, making any decisions made by it binding on all other state courts within Missouri.

3. Commercial Courts

Missouri has not established specialized commercial courts.

4. Mediation

“Any judge by order or any judicial circuit by local court rule may establish an alternative dispute resolution program as provided in this Rule 17. As used in this Rule 17, alternative dispute resolution programs include but are not limited to: (3) “Mediation,” a process in which a neutral third party facilitates communication between the parties to promote settlement.” Rule 17.01(a) and (b). “Settlement shall be by a written document setting out the essential terms of the agreement executed after the termination of the alternative dispute resolution process. Rule 17.06(c). “All alternative dispute resolution processes shall be non-binding unless the parties enter into a written agreement.” Rule 17.01(d).
In general, Missouri encourages parties to resolve civil actions prior to trial or to utilize alternative dispute resolution. In fact, Rule 17.02 states that “a notice of alternative dispute resolution services shall be furnished to all parties to the action. The notice shall be provided to the party initiating the action at the time the action is filed. All responding parties shall receive the notice with the summons and petition. The notice shall advise parties of the availability and purposes of alternative dispute resolution services.” Moreover, Rule 17.02(b) states that counsel shall advise their clients of the availability of alternative dispute resolution programs.
“A civil action shall be ordered to alternative dispute resolution upon stipulation of the parties. A civil action may be ordered to alternative dispute resolution upon the motion of any party or by the court. Absent the parties agreeing to an alternative dispute resolution process, the court shall determine the most appropriate process.” Rule 17.03(a). If counsel for any party, after conferring with their respective clients, all other attorneys, and unrepresented parties, conclude that referral to alternative dispute resolution has no reasonable chance of being productive, they may opt out by so advising the court, in writing, within thirty days before the deadline to begin the alternative dispute resolution. The matter shall not thereafter be referred by the court to alternative dispute resolution absent compelling circumstances, which shall be set out by the court in any order referring the matter to alternative dispute resolution.” Rule 17.03(b).
Pursuant to Rules 17.05 and 17.06, mediation communications are confidential. Absent a written agreement, “any award or evaluation shall be reported only to the parties and their lawyers and shall have no effect other than as a guide to the parties in resolving the lawsuit and shall be inadmissible in any court.” Rule 17.05. “Any communication relating to the subject matter of such dispute made during the alternative dispute resolution process by a participant or any other person present at the process shall be a confidential communication. No admission, representation, statement or other confidential communication made in setting up or conducting such process shall be admissible as evidence or subject to discovery.” Rule 17.06.