Journalist's Guide

The Civil Process

Overview Civil cases are filed either in the district or Circuit Court, usually depending on the type of case and/or the amount of money at issue. The county in which the case is filed (the venue ) is governed by law and depends on various things, such as the type of case, where the plaintiff lives, where the defendant lives or does business, and strategic concerns of the attorneys. The Complaint The civil litigation process begins when at least one plaintiff , who is suing at least one defendant , files a complaint within the clerk’s office. The complaint is an excellent starting place to determine the nature of the plaintiff’s claims and the nature of relief sought, such as money or equitable relief where a court orders something to be done or not done. The complaint generally includes all theories of recovery, some of which appear to contradict each other and may make the complaint very confusing. Often, the money sought is far in excess of what the plaintiff actually hopes to recover and may be chosen for shock or publicity value. Many cases are now simply filed for an amount “in excess of $75,000” without listing a specific amount sought. It is worth remembering, at this point, the statements in the complaint are only allegations. The complaint also lists the name and address of the plaintiff and defendant and contact information for the plaintiff’s attorney. From time to time, the allegations, claims, and type of relief sought in the complaint may change, so look in the file for an amended complaint . The complaint and virtually all other documents filed are available for public viewing. Note the case number, which is assigned to every complaint, for ease in locating the case in the online Maryland Judiciary Case Search or viewing the documents online through Maryland Electronic Courts. To keep cases moving through the system efficiently, Maryland courts have implemented an automated case management system, which schedules cases according to their complexity. To assist in this process, the plaintiff in Circuit Court must file a Case Information Report with the complaint, which sets forth some basic information as to the nature of the plaintiff’s claim and requests a case management “track” (such as short, medium or complex). The court will then issue a scheduling order , which sets the deadlines in which the case proceeds, including discovery and motions deadlines, deadlines to name expert witnesses, a date for a pre-trial settlement conference and, sometimes, a trial date. These dates can, and often do, change. The Response Once the complaint is filed, the clerk issues a writ of summons , also referred to as process , and typically returns it to the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney, if there is one, for service of the complaint on the defendant. Service of the writ formally brings the defendant within the jurisdiction of the court. There are time limits and exact procedures as to how the summons and complaint are to be served. In the Circuit Court, once served, the defendant usually has 30 days to file an answer or a motion to dismiss in which a hearing may be requested. In the District Court, once served, the defendant usually has 15 days to file a notice of intention to defend .


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