I have represented hundreds of parties in lawsuits in the state and federal courts in North Carolina. Navigating through our court system can be a complicated task. This page addresses some aspects of litigation in North Carolina.
The lawsuit begins with the filing of a Complaint and Summons, which are then served on (i.e. delivered to) the Defendant (i.e. the party against whom a suit is filed). The Defendant (in State court) has thirty days in which to respond to the Complaint; the Defendant sometimes obtains an extension of time to answer the Complaint. The Defendant can also assert any defenses or motions, and can file a counter-claim, and can even bring other parties into the suit (in a “third-party action”).
The parties then typically engage in discovery. This consists of interrogatories (or questions), requests for documents, and depositions (in which witnesses appear outside of court and give testimony). The parties can file various motions, including motions to dismiss and motions to compel (i.e. compelling the other side to respond to discovery). The North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure are largely based on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
There are multiple forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in North Carolina. For cases filed in the Superior Court, the parties are required to go to mediation, at which the parties, with the help of a mediator, try to settle the case. (I am a certified mediator in North Carolina.) Many cases settle in mediation; those that do not proceed to a trial. Cases in the District Court often are submitted to non-binding arbitration. Cases appealed from arbitration proceed to a trial. (Cases filed in small claims court are addressed in another article. Cases appealed from small claims court are put into the District Court.)
The length of time before a trial varies. Nine months would be a fairly quick trial date; eighteen months to two years is more typical. Trial raises numerous and complicated issues, including jury selection, rules of evidence, and various motions. The parties can appeal an adverse verdict to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
Some cases are filed in (or removed to) federal court in North Carolina. North Carolina has three federal districts (Western, Middle, and Eastern). North Carolina is in the Fourth Circuit.
Parties in North Carolina have a right to represent themselves in court. It should be noted, however, that corporations and other entities must appear through a licensed attorney. Even the owners of a corporation cannot appear in court (subject to a few exceptions). It is very difficult for a non-lawyer to represent himself in litigation due to the rules of civil procedure and rules of evidence, in addition to other procedural rules and strategic considerations. North Carolina has largely adopted the Federal Rules of Evidence.
Navigating through our court systems in North Carolina can be very difficult, and typically requires the assistance of an attorney. I have represented parties in hundreds of cases in North Carolina state and federal court. I have tried civil and criminal cases to jury verdict, and handled numerous appeals in state and federal court. If you live in Cary or anywhere else in Wake County, reach out to my office in Raleigh, North Carolina, for guidance in civil litigation.