Summary Review of Court Systems -

South Carolina

Structure of Civil Courts

The court system in South Carolina is comprised of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts, Family Courts, the Magisterial Courts, Municipal Courts, Probate Courts, and Master-in-Equity Courts. The state’s highest court is the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals hears the majority of appeals from the circuit or family courts. The Circuit Court in South Carolina is the State’s court of original jurisdiction. The state is divided into sixteen judicial circuits to encompass its 46 counties. Within each county, there are magistrate courts, which are not courts of record. There is one federal district court in South Carolina with several divisions.

Basis of Jurisdiction

The basis for jurisdiction for courts in South Carolina is territorial jurisdiction, subject matter jurisdiction, and the amount in controversy. The Circuit Court is the state’s court of general jurisdiction. Also, the Circuit Court has limited appellate jurisdiction over appeals from the Probate Court, Magistrate’s Court, and Municipal Court. The Circuit Courts have broad subject matter jurisdiction.

The Circuit Court’s civil court is the Court of Common Pleas. Jury trials, bench trials, and motions are heard by circuit judges in the Courts of Common Pleas. The Masters-in-Equity have jurisdiction in equity matters received from the Circuit Court. In some counties, masters-in-equity are designated to hear non-jury and motions otherwise heard by circuit judges in Common Pleas court. The Magistrate’s Court has civil jurisdiction when the amount in controversy does not exceed $7,500. Municipal courts do not have civil jurisdiction.

The probate court has jurisdiction over cases involving administration of estates, guardianships or conservatorships, mental or substance abuse commitments, and minor settlements under $10,000. Family courts in the state have exclusive jurisdiction over all cases involving domestic or family relationships. All regular and special judges shall have all powers and jurisdiction which they have in open court in any county within their circuit, except for the determination of such matters as necessitate trial by jury. Cases involving an action for monetary recovery only or of real and personal property must be tried by a jury unless the parties consent to a trial without a jury.

Commercial Courts

The state of South Carolina has a Business Court Pilot Program which has been expanded to cover every county in the state. The State is divided into three Business Court regions. When a case is filed in a Business Court Region, the Chief Business Court Judge can assign exclusive jurisdiction over a case to the Business Court Judge of that region. The Business Court Judge shall then retain jurisdiction over that case. Civil matters under the following Titles of the South Carolina Code of Laws are appropriate to be assigned to the Business Court:

a. Title 33—South Carolina Business Corporation Act of 1988;
b. Title 35—South Carolina Uniform Securities Act of 2005;
c. Title 36, Chapter 8—South Carolina Uniform Commercial Code: Investment Securities;
d. Title 39, Chapter 3—Trade and Commerce: Trusts, Monopolies, and Restraints of Trade;
e. Title 39, Chapter 8—Trade and Commerce: The South Carolina Trade Secrets Act;
f. Title 39, Chapter 15—Trade and Commerce: Labels and Trademarks; or,
g. for such other cases as the Chief Business Court Judge may determine.


Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in South Carolina involves three alternatives to lawsuits and trials: negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. ADR is mandatory in all 46 counties in the state for both circuit and family court. Mediation can also be mandated by probate judges if needed, and some magistrate courts have mediation programs. Any settlement is voluntary and if settlement is not made, the parties do not lose their right to go to trial. Rule 2(a), SCADR.

The parties who must be present at a mediation conference include: the mediator, all contesting individual parties, the party’s counsel of record, and for any insured party against whom a claim is made, a representative of the insurance carrier who has full authority to settle the claim. The ADR Rules in South Carolina cover the guidelines for mediation in circuit and family courts. The South Carolina Bar carries out these programs for the South Carolina Commission on ADR. The Supreme Court, or its designee, the Board of Arbitrator and Mediator Certification, approves mediator training programs for the state. The Commission on Alternative Dispute Resolution holds a roster of approved training programs. All attorneys must inform their clients about their options regarding mediation and arbitration.