Summary Review of Court Systems -
Structure of Civil Courts
I. The Ohio Supreme Court
The Ohio Supreme Court is the state’s highest court. Although it must accept appeals from the Court of Appeals in certain circumstances (e.g., death penalty cases or constitutional issues), it has discretion as to whether to accept most appeals. Generally, it will accept jurisdiction only over cases of “public or great general interest.”
II. The Courts of Appeals
Because so much of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction is discretionary, Ohio’s Courts of Appeal are often the court of last resort. Ohio has twelve appellate districts. Each of the 88 counties is assigned to one of those districts. Each district hears appeals from the common pleas, municipal and county courts located in the counties assigned to that district. Each case is heard and decided by a three-judge panel, although the rules also allow en banc review by all of the appellate judges in a district under certain circumstances.
III. Trial Courts
A. Common Pleas Courts
Each of Ohio’s 88 counties has a court of common pleas. In more populous counties, the court of common pleas will be divided into general, domestic relations, juvenile and probate divisions.
• General Division
The general division common pleas courts have the power to hear all criminal felony cases and civil cases in disputes of more than $500.
• Commercial Docket Program
The Commercial Docket Program is available to Ohio counties with either six or more general division judges, or populations exceeding 300,000. Establishing a Commercial Docket is up to each individual court. Commercial Docket Judges hear cases involving business-to-business disputes, including liquidations, trade-secret disputes, non-compete contracts and shareholder disagreements. The docket was designed to resolve such cases more quickly while establishing consistency and expertise among the docket’s judges.
B. Municipal and County Courts
The subject-matter jurisdiction of municipal and county courts is nearly identical. Both municipal and county courts have the authority to conduct preliminary hearings in felony cases, and both have jurisdiction over traffic and non-traffic misdemeanors. These courts also have limited civil jurisdiction. Municipal and county courts may hear civil cases in which the amount of money in dispute does not exceed $15,000.
All municipal and county courts also have what is known as a small claims court, presided over by a magistrate. These courts have limited monetary jurisdiction (claims must not exceed $6,000) and are established to enable people to represent themselves when the amount in question is not large and the cost of litigation would be more than the value of the claim.
C. Court of Claims
The Ohio Court of Claims hears civil cases filed against the state of Ohio and appeals of claims for compensation by crime victims. Court of Claims judges are assigned to cases by the Ohio Supreme Court chief justice.
Basis of Jurisdiction
Civil actions up to $15,000 can be heard in municipal or county courts. Civil actions over $500 can be heard in the Courts of Common Pleas (actions over $15,000 must be heard in Common Pleas). If a counterclaim is filed in a municipal or county court that exceeds that Court’s jurisdiction, the case is transferred to Common Pleas Court, except in the Cleveland Municipal Court.
The Commercial Docket Program is available to Ohio counties with either six or more general division judges, or populations exceeding 300,000. The specialized dockets exist to resolve business-to-business disputes. Currently there are four counties with commercial dockets: Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lucas, and Hamilton Counties.
Court mediation services are available on county-to-county and jurisdiction-to-jurisdiction basis in Ohio. Ohio has at least 254 courts using mediation across all case types in all courts. The Ohio Supreme Court has a Dispute Resolution Section that provides consulting assistance to courts in Ohio that want to create or expand mediation services. However, there is no mandate for any court to implement mediation programs or services.
In most courts, litigants can request mediation of their case, or the assigned Judge can refer it to mediation, after the first Case Management Conference or at other reasonable times during the litigation. Courts generally also will set a settlement conference at the request of the parties and prior to trial.
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