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Litigation Corner: Which Court Does What in Michigan State Courts?

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Liza C. Moore
Foster Swift Agricultural Law Update
March 14, 2014

You might hear people say they are “going to court.”  What some people might not realize is that there are many courts, each with different rules, powers, and procedures. This article will give a general overview of some of the different courts in Michigan and what they have the power to decide. 

Michigan has state trial courts (District, Circuit, and Probate Courts, plus the Court of Claims) and state appellate courts (the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court), which were created by Michigan’s state Constitution and state laws. 

Michigan District Courts (~100 statewide). Michigan’s district courts decide civil cases with claims up to $25,000, misdemeanor criminal cases, and most traffic violations and landlord-tenant disputes.

Michigan Circuit Courts (~57 statewide). Michigan’s circuit courts decide civil cases with claims of more than $25,000 and all felony criminal cases.

Michigan Probate Courts (~78 statewide). Michigan’s probate courts handle wills, estates, and trusts, appoint guardians and conservators, and order treatment for mentally ill and developmentally disabled persons.

Michigan Court of Appeals. The Michigan Court of Appeals primarily reviews decisions made by the circuit courts. Parties may appeal final decisions of Michigan’s circuit courts, and some probate court and agency orders, to the Court of Appeals as a matter of right with a claim of appeal. Parties must ask permission of the Court of Appeals to appeal other circuit court decisions, and do so by filing applications for leave to appeal.  The Court of Appeals has original jurisdiction over some other actions. The Court of Claims, which hears civil cases filed against the State of Michigan and its agencies, is now housed in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Michigan Supreme Court. The Michigan Supreme Court is Michigan’s appellate court of last resort and the Supreme Court chooses which cases it will review. Parties file applications for leave to appeal, usually asking the Court to review decisions made by the Michigan Court of Appeals. Most applications for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court are not granted. 

Each of these courts have their own different rules and procedures, which can be so detailed as to state what size font needs to be used in papers filed with the court.  Many circuit courts have their own local rules, and some judges have their own specific procedures they expect the plaintiff and defendant to comply with. 

The next Update will give an overview of the federal court system. Meanwhile, remember that if you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to sue someone, or someone has sued you, the first step is to contact your attorney as soon as possible.