One of the more confusing concepts about Maryland practice for lawyers and non-lawyers alike is which court within our state court system is the proper court in which to file suit. In addition to our appeals courts, Maryland has three different state courts where a lawsuit or complaint or other claim for relief may be filed: The District Court, the Circuit Court, and the Orphans’ Court. Additionally, Maryland houses a federal court, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. A future post will discuss what types of claims can be filed in federal court versus state court. This post will give the “30,000-foot view” of the District Court, the Circuit Court and the Orphans’ Court:
District Court for Maryland
Each county in the State of Maryland (as well as Baltimore City) has at least one District Court. Many jurisdictions have more than one District Court. For example, Montgomery County has District Courts in Rockville and Silver Spring; Anne Arundel County has District Courts in Glen Burnie and Annapolis; Prince George’s County has District Courts in Hyattsville and Upper Marlboro; and, Baltimore City has three different District Court locations. District Courts have limited jurisdiction over civil cases. What follows are common actions for which the District Court has “exclusive jurisdiction” (i.e., this type of case must be filed in District Court):
- Landlord-tenant actions;
- Actions where the damages sought are less than $5,000.00 (small claims)
- Actions for tort (injury) or breach of contract where the damages sought are less than $30,000.00 (but if the damages are more than $10,000.00, the defendant may remove the case to Circuit Court).
This is a non-exclusive list but it represents the most common claims that are filed in the District Court for Maryland.
Circuit Court for Maryland
In addition to at least one District Court, each county in the State of Maryland (as well as Baltimore City) also has one Circuit Court. A Circuit Court is described as a “trial court of general jurisdiction.” What does this mean? Circuit Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over a much broader scope of cases.
What follows are examples of common actions for which the Circuit Court has exclusive jurisdiction:
- Family Law actions (divorce, custody, child support modification);
- Petitions to appoint a guardian;
- Litigation relating to trusts;
- Any civil claim for which a jury trial can be requested (the District Court does not have jurisdiction to preside over a jury trial);
- Civil disputes with more than $30,000.00 at dispute;
- Actions relating to property rights;
- Declaratory judgment actions (actions asking the Circuit Court to interpret a deed, contract, or similar written document, and declare an individual’s rights and obligations under that document)
- Equitable actions (actions where some form of relief is being sought aside from monetary damages, such as an injunction or a restraining order)
This is a non-exclusive list but it represents the most common claims that are filed in the Circuit Court for Maryland.
Orphans’ Court for Maryland
In addition to at least one District Court and one Circuit Court, each county in the State of Maryland (as well as Baltimore City) also has one Orphans’ Court. An Orphans’ Court has extremely limited jurisdiction and primarily hears disputes arising out of the administration of a decedent’s estate.
What follows are examples of common actions filed in Orphans’ Court:
- Action to challenge the validity of a will (a “caveat” action — which may also be filed in Circuit Court depending upon );
- Actions to remove a Personal Representative (Executor) of an estate;
- Actions challenging distributions to beneficiaries proposed by a Personal Representative;
- Actions challenging the validity of Estate accountings filed and prepared by the Personal Representative;
- Actions to appoint a guardian over a minor child (under age 18) if a minor child is to receive a distribution from an estate.
This is a non-exclusive list but it represents the most common claims that are filed in the Orphans’ Court for Maryland.
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Jeremy Rachlin is a Senior Associate at the Bethesda, Maryland law firm of JDKatz, P.C., practicing civil, commercial, employment, and estate litigation. Named as a “Rising Star” by Maryland Super Lawyers Magazine in 2012 and 2013, he can be reached at (301) 913-2948 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. JDKatz, P.C., can also assist clients in need of estate planning, estate administration, and tax law representation, and Jeremy invites you to contact him regarding these issues, as well.
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