Summary Review of Court Systems -
Structure of Civil Courts
The New Jersey court structure is relatively simple and straightforward, with each particular type of court presiding over specific types of matters, including municipal courts, Superior Court, the Surrogate’s Court, Tax Court, Appellate Division and the Supreme Court. The New Jersey court system handles approximately seven million new cases on an annual basis.
Basis of Jurisdiction
Municipal Courts: New Jersey’s Municipal Courts have limited jurisdiction, usually presiding over matters concerning motor vehicle and parking tickets, minor criminal offenses, municipal ordinance violations as well as municipal license violations.
Superior Court: New Jersey’s Superior Court is a statewide court that functions as the principal trial courts in the state. The Superior Court is located in fifteen vicinages, ten of which comprise a single county, and five of which comprise multiple counties. The Superior Court is organized into two divisions: the Chancery Division and the Law Division.
Chancery Division: The Chancery Division is a court of equity that handles three distinct types of matter; general equity, probate and family court proceedings. Within the Chancery Division, there are three Parts: (1) General Equity; (2) Probate; and (3) Family.
In general, the General Equity Part deals with matters where primarily equitable relief is sought. For example, the General Equity Part handles matters where a party seeks injunctive or other emergent relief other than a money judgment.
The Probate Part in the Chancery Division handles contested probate matters, as well as certain uncontested probate matters. The Probate Part is authorized to supervise all disputes that arise in connection with a decedent’s estate, including trusts, guardianships, conservatorship, or other probate matters. By contrast, the Surrogate’s Court exclusively handles uncontested matters, where there are no objections, disputes or controversies, such as the probate of a last will and testament where no objections or disputes are filed.
Finally, the Chancery Division’s Family Part is primarily responsible to handle all matters that arise out of marital or familial relationships, such as custody, juvenile matters and domestic violence.
Law Division: The Law Division of the Superior Court consists of the Civil Part, the Special Civil Part and Criminal Part.
The Special Civil Part generally handles civil matters where the amount in dispute does not exceed $15,000. Within the Special Civil Part, there is a small claims division that handles matters in which less than $3,000 is in dispute, and a landlord-tenant section that handles summary dispossession actions. Matters within the Special Civil Part generally are handled on a more expedited basis than the Civil Part.
The Civil Part within the Law Division has jurisdiction over matters where the litigants primarily seek a judgment at law, normally in the form of a money judgment, although the Civil Part may also grant ancillary equitable relief.
Tax Court: The Tax Court, comprised of 12 judges statewide, has limited jurisdiction to hear appeals of tax decisions made by local county Boards of Taxations as well as decisions made by the Director of the Division of Taxation regarding state income, sales and business taxes and homestead rebates.
Appellate Division: The Appellate Division is the State’s intermediate appellate court, and consists of 32 sitting judges who hear appeals on two and three judge panels. The Appellate Division hears appeals from trial courts, Tax Court as well as administrative agencies. The Appellate Division reviews final judgments appealed from as of right, and may also review interlocutory orders with leave of court.
Supreme Court of New Jersey: The Supreme Court is the State’s highest appellate court, and is comprised of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. The Court hears cases from lower courts which the Court agrees to review on the filing of a petition for certification with the Court. The Court generally agrees to hear appeals that present legal issues of particular importance to the public, or where there is a conflict between Appellate Division decisions.
In 2015, the Complex Business Litigation Program was established in the Civil Part of the Law Division, to handle matters in which the amount in controversy is at least $200,000 and the litigants either designate the case as being a complex commercial or construction dispute, or move the Court for inclusion into the program. At least one Judge in each vicinage is specifically designated to handle all of the Complex Business Litigations.
The New Jersey Court Rules provide that any type of matter pending in the Civil, General Equity or Probate Parts may be referred to mediation by the court. In the event that the court orders the parties to participate in mediation, they are required to participate in at least two hours of mediation, free of charge. If, after two hours of mediation, the parties agree to continue the mediation process, the mediator is entitled to receive compensation at their market hourly rate. The parties are permitted to select a mediator from the approved roster within fourteen days of the referral order, or the Court-appointed mediator will serve as the mediator.
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