Civil Law
What is a Civil Case?

A civil case is a court procedure for working out a disagreement between two people, businesses or organizations. The disagreement usually involves one person believing that he or she has been hurt or had his or her rights violated or property damaged by another person. If you are the one starting the case, you are called the plaintiff, and the person or business you are suing is called the defendant. In most civil cases, the plaintiff is asking for a specific amount of money to be paid by the defendant. However, in some civil cases, the plaintiff may be asking the court to tell the defendant to stop some behavior or to do a specific thing. The plaintiff is responsible for paying the filing fees and most other required fees such as service fees.

The general district court must handle the case if the claim is for $3,000 or less, and it may handle cases with claims between $3,000 and $15,000. Cases involving between $3,000 and $15,000 may also be handled by the circuit court. The case can be filed in the court where the incident occurred or in the court where the defendant lives.

If the amount of the claim is more than $15,000, the circuit court must handle the case. The case can be filed in the circuit court where the incident occurred, or in the circuit court in the county where the defendant lives.

In a civil case, both the plaintiff and the defendant may be represented by an attorney.

What is a Bankruptcy Case?

Bankruptcy cases refer to proceedings initiated either by or against a business or individual who lacks the ability, means or assets to cover or pay for his debts and liabilities. Voluntary bankruptcy proceedings are those initiated by the debtor, and involuntary bankruptcy proceedings are those initiated by one or more creditors of a debtor seeking to have the debtor's remaining assets distributed among the creditors.

Bankruptcy cases are handled in the federal district court, not in the state court system. The bankruptcy court for your district can be found under the "United States Government - Courts" section of your telephone book.

Because of the complexity and seriousness of bankruptcy proceedings, it is advisable to consult an attorney before proceeding on your own.

What should I know about landlord-tenat disputes?

If you are renting a home, apartment, mobile home, or some other building from someone, you are a tenant. A landlord is the person who is renting the home, apartment, mobile home, or some building to you. Both the tenant and the landlord have legal rights.

A tenant can be evicted from the property for a variety of reasons. Some common reasons are failure to pay rent, destruction of property and refusal to follow rules and regulations.

Before a landlord can file a lawsuit to evict the tenant, the tenant must be served a Notice to Quit. After the time specified on the Notice to Quit has passed, a summons for unlawful detainer may be issued by the general district court. Unlawful detainer is the legal term for eviction or request of the landlord for return of possession of the rented premises. A copy of the notice of the court hearing must be served on the tenant.

If the tenant fails to appear at the court hearing and answer the summons for unlawful detainer, a default judgment for possession of the property and money judgments may be entered entitling the landlord to possession of the premises.

A tenant who disagrees with the summons for unlawful detainer may request a trial or hearing.

A tenant may claim that rent is not being paid because the property is unlivable or in need of repair. This is called a constructive eviction. In these cases, the court may reduce the amount of rent owed or require the landlord to make some repairs.

Generally, the person who signs a lease agreement is responsible for making the rent payments. If you sign a lease with someone else as joint tenants, and the other person refuses to pay their share, you may be held accountable for the entire amount. Likewise, if you sublet your rental property to someone else, you are still responsible for all rent payments.

If a tenant moves out before the lease expires, the landlord can file an action with the court to collect the payments remaining in the lease period. The landlord must try to re-rent the premises. This is called mitigation of damages.

A tenant can file an action with the general district court if his or her damage deposit is not refunded or if they disagree with any charges made by the landlord against the deposit.

For further assistance regarding landlord and tenant rights, contact an attorney or a legal aid society.


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