The Maryland Court System includes two courts in which people can file cases, the lower District Court and the higher Circuit Court. (There are also two levels of appellate courts.)
Both trial level courts decide criminal cases and civil cases. This information concerns civil cases.
Civil cases in the District Court . . .
- cost less.
The filing fee is now $28 or $38, depending on the amount claimed in the case.
- come to trial much faster — currently about 3 or 4 months after the case is filed.
- have simpler and less expensive pre-trial procedures. This includes the ability to enter your medical records into evidence without calling an expensive medical expert witness.
- are decided by judges, not juries.
- cannot claim more than $30,000.
But, if you claim more than $15,000, the person you sued has a Maryland Constitutional right to a jury trial. Since there are no juries in the District Court, a request for a jury trial transfers the case to the higher, slower, more expensive Circuit Court.
In addition, the suit papers must be “served” on the defendant, usually by personal delivery or mailing. If you have the Sheriff’s office deliver the papers, the current charge is $40.
If you win, the filing fee and the Sheriff’s fee are added to your “judgment” (what you win).
Civil cases in the Circuit Court . . .
- cost more to file
The filing fee is now approximately $145.
- take longer to come to trial — currently about 1 year after the case is filed in most counties.
- have more extensive (and expensive) pre-trial procedures. You, and the person or organization that you sued, can learn about the other’s case by using the court’s “discovery” procedures. These include …
Sending questions called Interrogatories to the other party that must be answered in writing under oath,
Questioning the other party — or witnesses — in a face-to-face question-and-answer session called a deposition,
Requiring each other to produce documents and other tangible things that concern the issues in the case,
Requiring mental or physical examinations — if there are mental or physical condition issues in the case.
- can be decided by judges or juries. If either side requests a jury, they get it.
- no limit on the amount you can claim.
The suit papers have to be served, just as in the District Court. The Sheriff’s fee for serving the papers is $40.
Choosing The Right Court
So, which is the right court for your case?
At the risk of sounding like a lawyer . . . it depends.
Here are some of the important considerations . . .
- If you want to claim more than $30,000, you have to file your case in the Circuit Court. You cannot recover more than $30,000 in the District Court.
- If you need the more extensive pre-trial discovery procedures to get proof of your case, file in the Circuit Court.
- Do you want your case to be decided by a judge or a jury? If you want a jury, you must file in the Circuit Court. If you want to make sure that you get a judge, you must file in the District Court… for $15,000 or less. (Even if you file in the lower court, if you ask for more than $15,000, the one that you sued can ask for a jury trial and transfer the case to the Circuit Court where the juries sit).
To learn more about the Maryland Court System, contact us.