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General Structure of Colorado and Denver Civil Courts
Colorado civil courts are broken up into 3 main levels: small claims, county court, and district court. Generally speaking, the level of court you litigate the lawsuit in is determined by the amount of money at issue in the case. The court levels increase from relatively small amounts of money that can be sought in small claims court, to medium amounts of money in county court, to large amounts of money in district court. Further, the different levels of courts have different jurisdictional requirements and different requirements as to where the action can filed. For example, if you wanted to sue somebody who rear-ended your car in downtown Denver, but you live in Lakewood and the other driver lives in Aurora, where you can file the lawsuit will depend on what level of court you file in. If you wanted to file in Jefferson County, the county where you live, you may have to file in a particular court level, while if you wanted to file where the other driver lives, you may have several options as to what court level you can file in. On a related note, Colorado civil courts are broken up into counties such that each county in Colorado has its own courthouse. Accordingly, the jurisdictional requirements for where you can file a lawsuit are typically county dependent. The establishment and operation of the Colorado civil courts is codified in Colorado Revised Statutes (“C.R.S”) § 13-1-101 to 13-9-124. The procedure for litigating cases in Colorado civil courts is governed by the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure with each court level having different sets of rules.
Small Claims Courts in Colorado
In Colorado, small claims courts are governed by C.R.S. § 13-6-401 to 13-6-408 and the Colorado Rules of Procedure for Small Claims Court. There is a jurisdictional maximum of $7,500 meaning that, in order to file in small claims court, the money sought must be equal to or less than that amount. Additionally, small claims courts have more stringent filing location requirements than county court and district court. Broadly speaking, a small claims case may only be filed where the Defendant resides, as opposed to where the Plaintiff resides or where the event giving rise to the lawsuit took place. More specifically, the Colorado Rules of Procedure for Small Claims Court provides that all actions brought in small claims court must be brought in the county where the Defendant resides, is regularly employed, has a business office, or is a student at an institution of higher education. This jurisdictional location requirement may make it inconvenient to file in small claims court. In such circumstances the Plaintiff may want to look at filing in county court or district court where broader jurisdictional rules allow the Plaintiff to choose a move convenient location to litigate the case. In addition to monetary and location restrictions, filing in small claims court also restricts the ability of parties to the lawsuit to be represented by attorneys. Because small claims courts are designed to allow easy and efficient access to the court system for claims that may not have enough money at issue to justify hiring an attorney, the Colorado Rules of Procedure for Small Claims Court only allows parties to be represented under certain conditions. More specifically, in small claims court a Plaintiff may only be represented by an attorney if the Plaintiff is an entity such as a corporation or partnership, and the attorney is a full-time employee of that entity. In contrast, the Defendant may always choose to be represented by an attorney but has to notify the other side before the trial date. If the Defendant chooses to be represented by an attorney, then the Plaintiff may also choose to be represented by an attorney.
County Courts in Colorado
Colorado county courts have a $15,000 maximum jurisdictional requirement. Accordingly, in order to fie in county court, the money sought must be less than or equal to that amount. Additionally, county courts have concurrent jurisdiction with small claims courts meaning that if a person can file in small claims court, they can also file in county court. County courts in Colorado are established and governed by C.R.S. § 13-6-101 to 13-6-504 while procedure is governed by the Colorado Rules of County Court Civil Procedure. County courts represent a middle-ground between small claims court and district court where the rules, at least in theory, allow for a streamlined litigation process that is more in-depth than small claims court, but not a full-blown lawsuit like in district court. One major difference between county court and small claims court is that discovery is not allowed in small claims court. In a small claims case, neither party has a duty to provide information to the other side about their case, both parties simply show up for trial and litigate the claims. In contrast, county court allows for limited discovery if requested. Accordingly, in county court parties can ask questions of the other party to gain information for both their own case strategy and to gain information about the other party’s strategy. Additionally, depositions and production of documents can be requested which will further assist in the preparation of one’s case. To this end, discovery is a useful and helpful tool and effective use of it will help gather evidence to prove your claims while helping one to successfully argue against the other party’s claims. Another major difference between county court and small claims court are the jurisdictional restrictions on where a lawsuit may be filed. As discussed above, small claims actions can, generally speaking, only be filed where the Defendant lives, works, or has a place of business. County court, however, allows for the lawsuit to be filed where the Defendant resides, where the Plaintiff resides if the Defendant is served in that county, and in the county where the event giving rise to the lawsuit occurred. Accordingly, county court allows for many more options as to where the lawsuit can be filed which, in turn, allows the Plaintiff to choose the most convenient location to litigate the lawsuit.
District Courts in Colorado
The highest level of civil trial courts in Colorado are the district courts. In district court there is no jurisdictional restriction on the amount of money that can be sought in a lawsuit. Accordingly, lawsuits for any amount of money can be brought in district court. Additionally, district courts have concurrent jurisdiction with small claims courts and county courts; thus, if a lawsuit can be filed in small claims court or county court, it can also be filed in district court. The district courts are defined in C.R.S. § 13-5-101 to 13-5-145 and several of the districts include multiple counties. Litigation in district court is governed by the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure. Similar to the difference between county court and small claims court, district court allows for a more in-depth litigation process as compared to its lower level counterpart, county court. In particular, discovery is automatically granted in district courts; parties do not have to specifically request it. Additionally, the rules governing procedure in district court are much more complex and the process is not designed to be streamlined; instead, district court is designed to offer parties the opportunity to fully investigate and litigate all of their claims since, much of the time, significant amounts of money are in dispute. The jurisdictional requirements for where a case may be filed in district court are the same as in county court, that is, the case may be filed where the Defendant resides, where the Plaintiff resides if the Defendant is served in that county, and in the county where the event giving rise to the lawsuit occurred.