DIFFICULTY: Legal help recommended
FILING FEE: varying, see link at bottom
In Florida, the amount of money involved in a suit determines which court handles the case. If the total value claimed in the case is $15,000 or less, the case will be heard by the county court. This usually includes traffic infractions and small claims, which is why county court in Florida is referred to as “People’s court”—a large volume of people go through the courts every year.
For suits involving amounts greater than $15,000, as well as estate disputes, cases relating to juveniles, and tax disputes, you have to file with one of Florida’s twenty Circuit Courts. The Circuit Courts are allocated very specific jurisdictions, so it’s important to make sure your case applies. Circuit courts also hear appeals from the county courts.
Step 1: Determine which court to file in
Which court you file in determines which files you need to fill out. Using the following resources, figure out which court is relevant to your case:
Step 2: Draft a Complaint
Write your formal complaint. Florida courts do not provide an official civil court petition, it is typically drafted by your lawyer. Some circuit courts will have required cover sheets (an example from Florida’s Ninth Circuit is listed below) that you attach to your petition. A civil court petition should include relevant information about the type of damages you are pursuing and the reason you are filing the suit.
Step 3: File the Complaint and Pay Filing Fees
File your petition and pay the required filing fee. Filing fees vary greatly depending on the type of case you are bringing and which court you file it in. For a comprehensive list of filing fees in Florida, visit the official website.
The court clerk will provide you with the necessary forms and documentation, and can help you ensure that you do it correctly. Most of the circuit courts have forms available online, but they differ from circuit to circuit and can get quite confusing, so it’s a good idea to get help. As with all legal cases, it is important to ensure that you give as much detailed information about your claim as you can, and present all evidence available to you.
Step 4: Serve the defendant(s)
Serve the defendants. Serving the defendants is typically done by process server, mail, or law enforcement agents. For a comprehensive breakdown of how to serve papers in Florida, click here. Once papers have been served, the judge will set a court date.
Step 5: Hearing and judgment
Attend your court hearing with all your paperwork and any evidence you need to help prove your case. Civil cases can be heard either in front of a judge or by a jury. Either the plaintiff or the defendant can request a trial by jury. Legal representation is recommended, but not required. At the hearing, both parties will be asked to provide evidence and witnesses, and may have to testify. It is important to ensure that you have all of your information in order before your trial date, so that you are as prepared as possible to argue your case.