The civil jurisdiction of Magistrate Court includes dispossessory actions (evictions), garnishments, and general civil actions where the amount of the controversy does not exceed $15,000. A civil case is one where a party seeks money damages from another party for alleged wrongs. The types of civil cases which the Court generally hears are suits for money owed from one party to another, claims for damage to person or property, landlord/tenant disputes, writs of possession matters and breach of contract cases. The only types of civil cases which cannot be considered by Magistrate Court are divorces, cases where equitable relief is sought and issues involving the title to land. All other civil matters may be heard by Magistrate Court, provided the amount in controversy does not exceed $15,000.
The procedures of the Magistrate Court are intended to promote the efficient resolution of disputes. Parties may represent themselves on matters before the Magistrate Court or may elect to have legal counsel represent them. Magistrate Court is the only Georgia court in which a corporation may represent itself in a civil matter. However, many parties find that hiring an attorney to represent them in Court allows their case to be presented effectively and efficiently, ensuring that all procedural and evidentary rules are followed. A non-attorney may not represent a party other than themself in any Georgia court. The Court will always try to accept into evidence all admissible and relevant evidence. However, if a party does not have admissible evidence or does not know how to have their evidence admitted, the Court cannot teach the parties those rules during trial.
A civil case is initiated by the Plaintiff filing a Complaint against the Defendant. The Complaint must set forth the basis of the claim that the Plaintiff has against the Defendant, provide the address of the Defendant and state a claim for damages. The Clerk of Magistrate Court has forms available for the Plaintiff to file the Complaint. The Plaintiff must also pay the filing and service fee to initiate the case.
- Filing fee (1 Defendant to be served) $95.00
- Service Fee for each additional Defendant $50.00 each
There are no limits to the number of Plaintiffs or Defendants which may be parties to the case. However, venue must be proper in Bulloch County under Georgia law.
After the Complaint is filed and the Filing Fees are paid, the Marshals will serve the Defendant with a copy of the lawsuit as required by law. The Defendant must then file an Answer to the Complaint within the time limits required by law. There are very specific time limitations on the filing of an Answer and the Defendant is charged with the responsibility of knowing and meeting those time demands. If the Defendant fails to file a timely Answer, the Plaintiff will receive a default judgment upon request without further notice to the Defendant for the amount set forth in the Complaint. If no specific dollar figure is requested in the Complaint, the Court will conduct a hearing on the issue of damages without further notice to the Defendant.
The Clerk of Magistrate Court has forms available for the Defendant to use in filing an Answer. However, no specific form is required. The Defendant may also file a Counterclaim against the Plaintiff, alleging that the Plaintiff owes damages to the Defendant. A Counterclaim is usually included within the Answer. There is no filing fee for the Answer. The Answer may allege that the Defendant does not owe anything to the Plaintiff or that the Defendant admits owing some amount but disagrees with the amount requested by the Plaintiff. Assuming that there is a timely Answer filed with the Clerk of Magistrate Court, the case will then be set for trial.
Civil cases are heard several times every month. Usually, the case will be heard by either the Chief Magistrate Judge or the Associate Magistrate Judge. The Clerk of Magistrate Court will send a trial notice to the parties at the address provided by the respective parties. It is important to keep the Clerk of Magistrate Court advised of any changes of address that may occur. The failure of a party to appear for trial will likely result in an adverse ruling to the party who failed to appear, including the dismissal of the case or a default judgment.
Prior to trial, the Georgia Rules of Magistrate Court require the parties to meet in person and discuss the possibility of settling the matter without a trial. This meeting will generally be conducted on the date of trial, prior to the case being heard. The parties are free to meet or speak by telephone prior to trial in an attempt to resolve the case and, in fact, the Court encourages such meetings. Once the trial begins, the parties lose control over their case and the resolution of an important matter is left to a judge who does not know the parties, their circumstances or other important facts. The Court only knows what is presented in Court and must decide the case based upon his or her factual findings and the law that applies to such facts. Frequently, neither party receives a judgment that is ‘perfect’ from their respective points of view. If the parties settle their case on terms that they agree upon, both parties generally leave the Courthouse satisfied. If the parties are able to settle their case, the Court will be willing to make that settlement a written, binding Order of the Court upon request. If the case proceeds to trial, both parties will receive the judgment of the Court by which they will be required to abide.
At trial, the Plaintiff will present evidence first and the Defendant will have the right to cross examine (ask questions of) the witnesses who testify. After the Plaintiff has concluded their presentation of evidence, the Defendant will have the right to present evidence and the Plaintiff will have the right of cross examination. The Court may ask questions from the bench in an attempt to address the heart of the matter and keep the parties on point. At the conclusion of all of the evidence, the Court will either announce a judgment or take the case under advisement. In either circumstance a written order will be sent to both parties by mail.
There are no jury trials in Magistrate Court. All civil cases are heard by a judge, this type of trial is commonly referred to as a bench trial. After a final judgment is rendered either party may appeal their case to the Superior Court of Bulloch County within time limits established by law and, within the context of that appeal, request a jury trial. An appeal requires the payment of costs by the party seeking the appeal and, upon payment of those costs, the case will be transferred to Superior Court.
This page is intended to provide a brief overview of the process of a civil case in Magistrate Court. This site is not intended to provide legal advice and the Court is specifically prohibited from giving legal advice. The Court encourages all parties who are considering legal action to seek the advice of an attorney before proceeding.