Understanding A Civil Case


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Slideshow from presentation to support staff intended to introduce basic concepts of civil law and procedure

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Understanding A Civil Case

  1. 1. Understanding a Civil Case Or Mike Prosser presents: My First Year of Law School in Under Two Hours A Program for Support Staff
  2. 2. <ul><li>What is “civil” law? </li></ul><ul><li>What is the difference between civil law and criminal law? </li></ul>
  3. 3. Civil Law <ul><li>Simply put, a civil proceeding is that brought to enforce a private right </li></ul><ul><li>From Latin word civilis meaning “of or pertaining to a citizen” </li></ul>
  4. 4. Criminal Law <ul><li>In criminal law, a case is brought to enforce a societal right </li></ul><ul><li>The purpose is to prevent harm to society </li></ul><ul><li>Criminal law defines what conduct is prohibited and defines the penalty for violation of that law </li></ul>
  5. 5. What About Both? <ul><li>Nothing prevents a person from being subject to both criminal prosecution and civil lawsuit </li></ul><ul><li>For example: a person may be charged and sentenced criminally for Assault and Battery, and the victim may still bring a civil lawsuit for medical bills, pain & suffering, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Famous Example: O.J. Simpson </li></ul>
  6. 6. Types of Civil Actions <ul><li>Tort </li></ul><ul><li>Contract </li></ul><ul><li>Statutory or Rule-Based Actions </li></ul>
  7. 7. Torts
  8. 8. Torts <ul><li>Intentional Torts </li></ul><ul><li>Negligence </li></ul>
  9. 9. Intentional Tort Examples <ul><li>Battery </li></ul><ul><li>Assault </li></ul><ul><li>False Imprisonment </li></ul><ul><li>Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress </li></ul>
  10. 10. Battery <ul><li>The intentional causing of an actual bodily contact, which is harmful or offensive </li></ul><ul><li>Bodily contact may be with either the plaintiff’s person or with some object intimately associated with his/her person </li></ul>
  11. 11. Assault <ul><li>Intentional causing of one to be put in apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive bodily contact </li></ul><ul><li>Simply put, fear of an immediate battery </li></ul>
  12. 12. False Imprisonment <ul><li>The intentional confinement of someone within specific boundaries without a privilege to do so </li></ul>
  13. 13. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress <ul><li>One who by outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress is liable to the other for the resulting harm, whether physical or emotional </li></ul><ul><li>Liability does not extend to mere insult (so you can’t sue your coworkers for this!) </li></ul>
  14. 14. Negligence <ul><li>The failure to do something a reasonable person would do; or </li></ul><ul><li>The doing of something a reasonable and prudent person would not do </li></ul><ul><li>Which act or failure to act causes harm to another </li></ul>
  15. 15. Elements of Negligence <ul><li>Duty </li></ul><ul><li>Breach </li></ul><ul><li>Cause </li></ul><ul><li>Harm </li></ul>
  16. 16. What is Comparative Negligence? <ul><li>It is a defense in negligence actions whereby the defendant argues that the plaintiff was at least partly at fault </li></ul><ul><li>If jury/judge finds plaintiff to be negligent the damages are reduced by the percentage of the plaintiff’s negligence </li></ul><ul><li>If plaintiff is more than 50% at fault then judgment is for the defendant </li></ul>
  17. 17. Contracts
  18. 18. Contracts <ul><li>A contract is a promise or a set of promises for the breach of which the law gives a remedy, or the performance of which the law in some way recognizes as a duty </li></ul>
  19. 19. General Requirements of a Contract <ul><li>Mutual assent </li></ul><ul><li>Consideration </li></ul><ul><li>Two or more parties having legal capacity to contract </li></ul><ul><li>Object of agreement must not be prohibited by law </li></ul>
  20. 20. Contract Requirements <ul><li>Mutual assent is usually manifested by offer and acceptance </li></ul><ul><li>Offer is a communication which invites the recipient the power to conclude the contract by accepting </li></ul><ul><li>Acceptance is the assent to the proposal by the offeree </li></ul>
  21. 21. Contract Requirements <ul><li>Consideration is that which is promised by each party to a contract </li></ul><ul><li>Promise </li></ul><ul><li>Doing of an act </li></ul><ul><li>Forbearance of an act </li></ul><ul><li>Must be bargained for (a promise to make a gift is not generally enforceable) </li></ul>
  22. 22. Contract Requirements <ul><li>Legal Incapacity arises from: </li></ul><ul><li>Infancy (under age of 18, even if minor misrepresents age the contract may be disaffirmed at the minor’s election); an exception is in Massachusetts a minor age 16 may enter into a contract for motor vehicle insurance (G.L. c. 175, § 133K) </li></ul><ul><li>Insanity : person under guardianship or adjudicated as incompetent </li></ul><ul><li>Drunkenness : a contract is generally voidable if made by person so drunk as to be incapable of understanding the nature of his/her action </li></ul>
  23. 23. Contract Requirements <ul><li>Legality </li></ul><ul><li>General rule is that illegal contracts are unenforceable in any way </li></ul><ul><li>Examples of Illegal Contracts: </li></ul><ul><li>Contract to violate a law </li></ul><ul><li>Contract in restraint of marriage </li></ul><ul><li>Contract to induce another to breach a contract or other fiduciary duty </li></ul>
  24. 24. Statutory or Rule-Based Civil Actions
  25. 25. Statutory or Rule-Based Civil Actions <ul><li>Not traditional actions in the nature of contract or tort </li></ul><ul><li>Examples: </li></ul><ul><li>Unemployment Appeals </li></ul><ul><li>Firearm Appeals </li></ul><ul><li>CMVI Appeals </li></ul><ul><li>209A Actions </li></ul>
  26. 26. Civil Procedure
  27. 27. Civil Procedure <ul><li>How does a typical civil case move through the system? </li></ul><ul><li>How does it progress differently from a typical criminal case? </li></ul><ul><li>Why are some cases brought in the Superior Court instead of the District Court? </li></ul>
  28. 28. Civil Case Progression <ul><li>A civil case is driven by the parties, particularly the plaintiff, much more than a criminal case </li></ul>
  29. 29. Initiation of Civil v. Criminal Case <ul><li>Criminal case is only initiated after some type of approval by the court (the granting of a complaint or an indictment by a grand jury) </li></ul><ul><li>Civil case cannot be refused by the court as long as the filing fee is paid and the complaint is accompanied by the appropriate statement of damages form (civil cover sheet in Superior Court) </li></ul>
  30. 30. Progression of Case: Civil v. Criminal <ul><li>Criminal case has regular court appearances to keep case moving along. Is never “unscheduled” except when case is over or defendant is in default </li></ul><ul><li>Events in case are driven by the parties’ actions out of court </li></ul><ul><li>Cases may be unscheduled at times while still pending </li></ul><ul><li>District Court has tried to eliminate this through its Standing Order 1-04 regarding civil case management </li></ul>
  31. 31. Superior Court or District Court? <ul><li>Amount of Claim: </li></ul><ul><li>Cases may be brought in District Court for any amount of damages, but the defendant may have any claim for over $25,000 dismissed and force the plaintiff to bring the case in the Superior Court </li></ul><ul><li>“ Procedural” amount versus “jurisdictional” amount </li></ul><ul><li>Rule 12(b)(10) </li></ul>
  32. 32. Superior or District Court? <ul><li>Statutory Requirement: </li></ul><ul><li>Some actions, by law, may only be brought in the Superior Court, for example: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Tort claims against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts must be brought in Superior Court pursuant to the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (G.L. c. 258) </li></ul></ul>
  33. 33. <ul><ul><li>Actions brought under Massachusetts Civil Rights Act </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Actions for negligence in connection with the distribution, sale, or serving of alcohol to minors </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Appeals of parking tickets after finding by municipal parking administrator (No kidding!) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Medical malpractice cases may be maintained in District Court, but must be approved by a tribunal in the Superior Court </li></ul></ul>
  34. 34. Superior or District Court? <ul><li>Equity Jurisdiction </li></ul><ul><li>Traditionally, only in Superior Court </li></ul><ul><li>Since adoption of one-trial system, the District Court has equity jurisdiction in cases where there is also a claim for money damages </li></ul>
  35. 35. What is Equitable Relief? <ul><li>Equity powers allow the court to order a party to do or refrain from doing something, rather than just an award of money damages </li></ul><ul><li>Example: Injunctions, TROs </li></ul>
  36. 36. What Happens After a Civil Case is Filed? <ul><li>Discovery process </li></ul><ul><li>Adding and dropping of parties and filing of additional claims </li></ul><ul><li>Summary judgment </li></ul><ul><li>Settlement </li></ul><ul><li>Trial </li></ul>
  37. 37. What is Civil Discovery? <ul><li>Purpose is to obtain and preserve evidence </li></ul><ul><li>Narrows issues at trial </li></ul><ul><li>Reduces “surprise” at trial </li></ul><ul><li>Party may obtain discovery even though it may not be admissible at trial (if it reasonably may lead to discovery of admissible evidence) </li></ul>
  38. 38. Discovery Procedures <ul><li>Depositions </li></ul><ul><li>Requests for Admissions </li></ul><ul><li>Interrogatories </li></ul><ul><li>Production of Documents </li></ul>
  39. 39. Deposition <ul><li>Out of court examination of a witness under oath, in which the questions and answers are recorded (stenographer/notary public) </li></ul><ul><li>Any party has absolute right to take deposition of any witness without any requirement of a showing of good cause </li></ul><ul><li>Often used at trial to impeach testimony of witness </li></ul><ul><li>Sometimes admissible if witness later dies or becomes unavailable </li></ul>
  40. 40. Requests for Admissions <ul><li>A party may serve upon another party written requests for admission of truth on any discoverable matter </li></ul><ul><li>Must be answered with an admission, denial, a statement as to why the party cannot truthfully admit or deny, or an objection (with reasons) </li></ul><ul><li>Responses are under pains of perjury </li></ul><ul><li>If not responded to within 30 days then deemed admitted </li></ul>
  41. 41. Interrogatories <ul><li>Set of questions (not more than 30) served upon a party that must be answered under oath in writing </li></ul><ul><li>Must be answered within 45 days </li></ul><ul><li>Failure to answer can result in default (and judgment) against defendant or dismissal against plaintiff </li></ul>
  42. 42. Production of Documents <ul><li>To a party, request is made in writing for permission to inspect and copy documents in party’s possession </li></ul><ul><li>To get documents from a non-party (witness) they must be served with a subpoena duces tecum to bring books, documents, etc. to a deposition </li></ul>
  43. 43. Adding Parties and Claims <ul><li>Counterclaims </li></ul><ul><li>Cross-claims </li></ul><ul><li>Adding additional parties (Impleader) </li></ul>
  44. 44. Counterclaim <ul><li>A claim for relief asserted against the plaintiff by the defendant </li></ul><ul><li>Raised in the defendant’s answer </li></ul><ul><li>Compulsory Counterclaim is one that must be asserted immediately or barred. It arises out of same transaction or occurrence as subject matter of plaintiff’s claim </li></ul><ul><li>Permissive Counterclaim may be asserted, but is not barred if it isn’t. It may be the subject of a later lawsuit. </li></ul>
  45. 45. Cross Claims <ul><li>Claims made between parties in the lawsuit (defendants) </li></ul><ul><li>Made for purposes of contribution or indemnification </li></ul><ul><li>“I don’t owe you anything, but he does!” </li></ul><ul><li>“If I’m paying, then he’s paying too, because it’s also his fault!” </li></ul>
  46. 46. Adding Parties <ul><li>Parties other than those originally in action may be added as parties to counterclaim or crossclaim (Rule 13(h)) </li></ul><ul><li>Added by a third-party complaint </li></ul><ul><li>Also usually for purpose of indemnification or contribution </li></ul>
  47. 47. Disposition without Trial <ul><li>Motion made in lieu of answer (12(b) motion) </li></ul><ul><li>Motion for judgment on pleadings </li></ul><ul><li>Summary judgment </li></ul><ul><li>Voluntary dismissal </li></ul><ul><li>Involuntary dismissal (failure to prosecute) </li></ul><ul><li>Settlement </li></ul>
  48. 48. 12(b) Motions to dismiss <ul><li>No subject matter jurisdiction </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of personal jurisdiction </li></ul><ul><li>Improper venue </li></ul><ul><li>Insufficiency of process </li></ul><ul><li>Insufficiency of service of process </li></ul><ul><li>Failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted </li></ul>
  49. 49. 12(b) Motions to dismiss <ul><li>Failure to join a party under Rule 19 </li></ul><ul><li>Misnomer of a party </li></ul><ul><li>Pendency of a prior action in a court of the Commonwealth </li></ul><ul><li>Improper amount of damages (“Procedural Amount”) </li></ul>
  50. 50. 12(b) Motions to dismiss <ul><li>These defenses are often listed as “defenses” in the defendant’s answer, rather than being separately raised in motion to dismiss </li></ul><ul><li>12(b) motion is a “responsive pleading” and may be made in lieu of an answer. If denied, defendant must then file answer </li></ul>
  51. 51. Waived if Not Raised <ul><li>Lack of personal jurisdiction </li></ul><ul><li>Improper venue </li></ul><ul><li>Insufficiency of process </li></ul><ul><li>Insufficiency of service of process </li></ul><ul><li>Misnomer of a party </li></ul><ul><li>Pendency of a prior action in a court of the Commonwealth </li></ul><ul><li>Improper amount of damages (“Procedural Amount”) </li></ul>
  52. 52. Motion for Judgment on Pleadings <ul><li>Rule 12(c) </li></ul><ul><li>Any party may challenge legal sufficiency of the adversarial party’s pleading </li></ul><ul><li>Only pleadings (complaint, answer) considered </li></ul><ul><li>If materials outside of pleadings considered, is treated as summary judgment motion </li></ul>
  53. 53. Motion for Judgment on Pleadings <ul><li>Usually seen in District Court in the context of a collection type action (credit card debt) </li></ul><ul><li>Defendant’s answer is something like, “I know I owe the money, but I can’t afford to pay right now.” </li></ul><ul><li>Court will allow motion which establishes liability, ability to pay is another issue (considered in supplementary process action) </li></ul>
  54. 54. Summary Judgment <ul><li>In deciding this motion, the judge must “look behind” the pleadings to determine if a genuine issue of fact exists </li></ul><ul><li>If no genuine issue of fact exists, the movant (plaintiff or defendant) is entitled to judgment </li></ul><ul><li>Motion must be supported by affidavits made upon personal knowledge </li></ul>
  55. 55. Summary Judgment <ul><li>Partial summary judgment may sometimes be granted, simplifying issues for trial </li></ul><ul><li>May often be granted on liability, leaving only issue of damages for trial </li></ul>
  56. 56. Voluntary Dismissal <ul><li>Plaintiff may dismiss a defendant by filing a notice of dismissal before the defendant files an answer or motion for summary judgment </li></ul><ul><li>If answer has been filed the stipulation of dismissal must be signed by all parties who have appeared in action (co-defendants) </li></ul><ul><li>Or by order of court </li></ul>
  57. 57. Involuntary Dismissal <ul><li>Example: 12(b) motion, 12(c) motion </li></ul><ul><li>May be ordered if plaintiff fails to prosecute by failing to act on default, respond to interrogatories, appear for Case Management or Pre-Trial Conference </li></ul><ul><li>If plaintiff is “directed out” at close of case in a civil bench trial, it is considered a motion for involuntary dismissal not a directed verdict motion (only in jury trials) </li></ul>
  58. 58. Settlement <ul><li>An out-of-court resolution of the case reported to the court before trial </li></ul><ul><li>Report of settlement may result in the filing of an agreement for judgment or a stipulation of dismissal </li></ul><ul><li>Upon reaching settlement, parties will often ask for a 30-day order to file the agreement or stipulation (could be 60, 90, etc.) </li></ul>
  59. 59. Trial <ul><li>May be by judge only (bench trial) </li></ul><ul><li>May be by jury </li></ul><ul><li>Not all issues may be submitted to jury </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Example: 93A claim has no right to jury trial, although judge may submit to jury in non-binding question </li></ul></ul>
  60. 60. Bench Trial <ul><li>Judge makes all findings of fact and rulings of law </li></ul><ul><li>Judge must make written findings if any party submits proposed findings of fact and rulings of law (does not apply to contempt trials) </li></ul>
  61. 61. Jury Trial <ul><li>Judge rules on law; jury finds facts </li></ul><ul><li>Jury may be given “special verdict” where they answer specific written questions </li></ul><ul><li>Jury verdicts do NOT have to be unanimous (District Court 5 of 6 jurors) </li></ul>
  62. 62. Jury Trials <ul><li>Defendant may make motion for directed verdict at close of plaintiff’s case and at close of evidence </li></ul><ul><li>Plaintiff may make motion for directed verdict at close of evidence </li></ul>
  63. 63. Post Jury Trial Motions <ul><li>Judgment N.O.V. is motion for entry of judgment in moving party’s favor notwithstanding the jury’s verdict </li></ul><ul><li>Must be made within 10 days </li></ul><ul><li>Court determines if reasonable men could have differed as to the verdict, considering the evidence in light most favorable to non-moving party </li></ul>
  64. 64. Post Jury Trial Motions <ul><li>Motion for new trial </li></ul><ul><li>Must be made within 10 days </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Because damages are inadequate or excessive </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>For newly discovered evidence </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>For misconduct of jury </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Errors at law committed at trial: this is asking the trial judge to acknowledge an error, different from appeal </li></ul></ul>
  65. 65. Appeal <ul><li>District Court </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Appeal to Appellate Division </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Appeal to Appeals Court </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Appeal to Supreme Judicial Court </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Superior Court </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Appeal to Appeals Court </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Appeal to Supreme Judicial Court </li></ul></ul>
  66. 66. Done Means Done <ul><li>Res Judicata </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Claim preclusion </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Same claim cannot be retried again </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Similar to double jeopardy in criminal cases </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Collateral Estoppel </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Issue preclusion </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If an issue has been litigated in an action the same parties may not re-litigate the same specific issue in a subsequent action even if the cause of action is different </li></ul></ul>
  67. 67. And now you’re done!
  68. 68. Contact Info <ul><li>Mike Prosser, Asst. Clerk-Magistrate </li></ul><ul><li>Worcester District Court </li></ul><ul><li>508-831-2016 (direct extension) [email_address] </li></ul>