Civil matters totaling more than $10,000 enter the District Court by the filing of a complaint. The complaint details the grievances suffered by the plaintiff and asks for compensation to make the plaintiff "whole". Civil lawsuits usually involve matters in which one party sues another to enforce an agreement, contract or an obligation, to recover property or money, to collect damages for injury suffered by the plaintiff or to protect the plaintiff's civil rights.
Defendants must be served a copy of the lawsuit and they have 20 days to respond to the suit. Once an answer has been provided, the parties meet to discuss a schedule for discovery, possible settlements, or to consider methods of alternative dispute resolution. A trial schedule, along with a summary of the claims and defenses in the case, are presented to the judge. The case may be tried in front of the judge, or before a jury if either party has made a request for a jury trial. The jury consists of eight individuals and usually two or three alternates. Three-fourths of the jurors must agree on a verdict.
The District Court offers civil litigants the option of Alternative Dispute Resolution, which provides mandatory, non-binding arbitration of certain civil cases, wherein the amount at issue is less than $40,000 per plaintiff. The purpose of the program is to provide a simplified procedure for obtaining a prompt, economical and equitable resolution of certain civil matters. In addition, certain civil litigants can participate in the Short Trial Program, which offers a trial, with the consent of the parties, that restricts the amount of discovery requested by each party, uses a jury composed of not more than six persons, and limits the length of the trial to one day.