DIFFICULTY: Legal assistance is recommended
Initial Filing Fee: $250 to $350
Civil court is the venue for general civil proceedings in Ohio. These courts are generally divided into two sections: the municipal courts, which handle cases concerning amounts of $15,000 or less, and the Court of Common Pleas, which handles cases concerning amounts in excess of $15,000, though these amounts can vary depending on the county. This does not mean all proceedings in civil court concern money directly. Civil court covers a variety of issues, including but not limited to: land sale proceedings, will constructions, and actions to determine heirship. Any civil suit is initiated by filing an official complaint and proceeds under the requirements of the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure (linked to in Additional Resources). While some of the forms relating to civil court and civil procedure are available on court websites, others, such as those concerning adoption or child custody, are only available at the courthouse in person. In particular, Ohio courts do not provide civil complaint forms, and it is the responsibility of the plaintiff to compose one of their own in accordance with the regulations outlined in the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure. Thus, engaging a lawyer or attorney to assist in the process is usually the right choice to make, as any mistakes could invalidate your case.
Step 1: Decide What Type of Case You Have
The first step in preparing a case for civil court is deciding what type of case you are making. There are eight designations you will need to choose from as you prepare your case. If your case requires more than one of these designations you should consider separating it into a number of separate cases. The eight designations are:
• Professional Tort: Any cases that involve allegation of malpractice by a person acting in a professional capacity, such as a doctor, lawyer, or engineer.
• Product Liability: Any cases that involve the manufacturer or seller of an article that caused injury to a person or property due to adefect in the condition of the article, or due to a breach of duty to provide suitable instructions to prevent injury.
• Other Torts: Any tort cases (or cases concerning a civil wrong) not classified as one of the above torts.
• Worker’s Compensation: Any cases concerning compensation for injury or disease obtained as a result of one’s work.
• Foreclosures: Any cases that involve the enforcement of a lien, mortgage, trust deed, or similar instrument provided by the law.
• Administrative Appeal: Any cases that are appealed from a decision by an administrative agency, which is a non-judicial unit of the government that is charged with overseeing the implementation, execution, and administration of particular legislation.
• Complex Litigation: Any extraordinary civil cases that involve novel or complicated issues of law or fact and therefore are unlikely to be resolved within the normal time guidelines of other cases. A case cannot be filed under this type, however, and must be designated as such by a judge after the initial filing.
• Other Civil: Any civil case that cannot be identified as belonging to any of the other civil designations.
When you submit your civil complaint you will also need to obtain and fill out a Case Designation Form, which informs the court exactly what type of case you are bringing against the defendant. Case Designation Forms differ by county.
Step 2: Choose the County to File the Case In
The next step is to decide in which county or municipality, depending on the size of the case, you will file your case. In general, the case needs to be connected to that county or municipality in some way. Examples of connections to a county might be if either party resides there, if the business or item involved located there, or if it is the location where the injury or problem was incurred.
Step 3: Choose the Court to File Your Case With
Decide with which court you are going to file your complaint.
• Municipal Courts: Hears cases in which the amount does not exceed a certain level, usually around $15,000
• Common Pleas Court: Hears cases involving real estate, breach of contract, marital conflicts, business relationships, and so forth – including complaints for amounts over that covered in the Municipal Courts.
o Probate Court: Hears cases concerning estates, adoption, competency hearings, and involuntary civil mental health commitments
o Domestic Relations Court: Hears cases concerning the termination of marriage in any form and all those topics relating to divorce, such as child support
o Juvenile Court: Hears cases involving juveniles, or children under 18, and issues relating to paternity and children born out of wedlock
o Appeals Court: Hears appeals from decisions made previously
If you are still uncertain about which court is the best choice for your case, consult an attorney or the clerk of your local courthouse for an answer.
Step 4: File a Complaint
Once you have prepared all the relevant information about your case you can file a complaint with the aligning clerk of the court. The forms for complaints are not available online, though your county clerk may have forms available at the courthouse. If not, you will need to draft your own complaint in accordance with the rules for Ohio Civil Procedure, linked below. Drafting a formal complaint is a complicated process, one that should be undertaken by a licensed attorney. Once the complaint is drafted, make at least one copy for yourself and one copy for the defendant, then submit the original to the clerk to initiate the legal process.
Step 5: Serve the Defendant
After you have filed the complaint, the clerk will need to serve the defendant a copy of the complaint to alert them of the situation and allow them to respond. Make sure to provide the clerk with the defendant’s address, otherwise this simple step may become unnecessarily difficult and costly for you. The defendant will be served either through the mail, by the sheriff’s office, or through publication, though this latter method is only allowed under unusual circumstances such as when the defendant cannot be located.
Step 6: Defendant Answers the Complaint
Once the defendant receives a copy of the complaint they will have 28 days to provide an answer. Either they can acquiesce to the complaint, therefore agreeing to pay or do what is requested, or they can deny the complaint and/or file a counterclaim. At this point the plaintiff will have twenty eight days to respond to the counter claim, and in both cases a date for the trial will be set.
Step 7: Pretrial Proceedings
Before the trial begins, the court does have the right to schedule any number of conferences in an attempt to clarify or resolve the issue at hand, as well as set out guidelines for the discovery of evidence to be used in the case. It is important to attend these conferences, either yourself or through an attorney, as missing them could lead to mistakes on your part or even a judgment in the other party’s favor.
Step 8: The Trial and Decision
At the trial, both parties will present their evidence and arguments to the judge or jury. At the conclusion of the process the judge or jury will make a decision and enter a judgment. The person who the decision is against can choose to appeal the decision if they feel that it was wrongful or incorrect, at which point they will need to consult the clerk of the court and discuss how to file an appeal in the Court of Appeals. If this is not the case, however, and the plaintiff is the successor, the defendant will be ordered to provide the appropriate compensation or to adhere to a set of rules governing their interactions.