May 6, 2024

Filing a Civil Lawsuit in North Carolina: District Court vs. Superior Court

Navigating the legal landscape in North Carolina can feel like a journey through a complex maze. When you’re bringing a legal case, the first decision you need to make is where you should file it. In North Carolina, the two main courts for civil cases are District Court and Superior Court. These two types of courts handle different levels of cases and have different judges. Let’s explore the distinctions between these two courts. 

District Court in North Carolina 

District Court the gateway to the legal system for many North Carolinians. Handling a variety of cases, from family law to small claims, it’s designed to be more accessible and less intimidating. Some cases may be heard by a magistrate, who is like a judge, while most are heard by a district court judge. People can and do bring claims in district court without using an attorney. Criminal cases heard in District Court may be appealed to Superior Court. District Courts are divided into, unsurprisingly, districts which may cover multiple counties. For example, Davie County and Davidson County are both in the 22nd District. 

Pros: Lower costs, simplified procedures, and generally faster resolutions. 

Cons: Limited to claims below $25,000, less structure. 

Superior Court in North Carolina 

Moving a step higher in the legal hierarchy, North Carolina’s Superior Courts deal with more substantial matters, including higher-value civil claims and felony criminal cases. The Superior Courts are divided into five divisions and the judges rotate throughout the division every six months. Ashe County and Cabarrus County are both in the fourth division, even though they are geographically separated by at least three other counties. These divisions are further divided into districts, and many districts cover multiple counties. The rules in Superior Court are strict and demanding. Superior Court Judges are typically more experienced than their district court counterparts. Superior Court cases are very difficult to navigate without a lawyer.  

Pros: Tailored to handle more significant disputes. 

Cons: Potentially longer and more expensive process. 

Choosing Between District and Superior Court 

The choice between District and Superior Court is not a mere coin flip. Factors such as the nature of the case, the amount in dispute, and the need for a jury trial all play into this decision. In a civil suit, if you are seeking to recover more than $25,000, you must bring your claim in Superior Court. But, if the claim is less than that amount, District Court is the appropriate venue. This decision is not only about the monetary value of the claim but also considers the complexity of the case, the resources required, and the potential duration of the legal process. 

This information is provided by Harris Legal for general benefit, education, and interest. If you have a specific legal question, you should consult with an attorney.