When it comes to civil litigation, it can often appear the triumphant party is simply the most willing to spend money and time, not necessarily the party with the best legal claim. Numerous people are discouraged from seeking to enforce their rights through the judicial process for this reason, as it is nearly impossible to state with any degree of certainty how long litigation will take or how expensive it will be. Yet South Dakotans with smaller civil claims will now have some peace of mind. The South Dakota Supreme Court recently issued new, albeit optional, procedural rules for “Expedited Civil Actions,” enabling quicker and less expensive civil litigation.
The new civil actions rules are to serve cases that fall somewhere between small claims court cases and cases where the monetary damages sought are substantial. Small claims court currently has a cap of $12,000. Prior to the Expedited Civil Actions procedures, this cap left cases exceeding this number, whether by one dollar or millions, to follow the same procedures as all other civil cases. Now there exists a middle-ground: plaintiffs seeking only monetary damages of $75,000 or less from a defendant have the option to expedite their case.
Civil actions are ineligible for expedition if they fall under small claims or domestic relations, but all other civil cases seeking a money judgement as outlined above need only file an expedited civil action and certify that the sole relief sought is $75,000 or less (including damages, penalties and attorneys’ fees, but excluding pre and post-judgement interest) to receive an expedited trial.
If a case does not meet the requirements for an expedited trial, both parties may request to proceed as an expedited civil action anyway by filing a Joint Motion to Proceed as an Expedited Civil Action. The court will either deny or approve the motion. If approved, the $75,000 limitation will not apply and each party will be responsible for making agreements regarding damages and attorneys’ fees. If denied, the case will proceed under traditional civil procedure rules.
In expedited civil cases, the judge will set a trial date when the case begins. The date should be within one year of the case’s opening. A guaranteed trial date of a year or less is an incredible improvement from regular civil procedure rules, as a typical civil case would take much longer. In addition to saving time, plaintiffs will also save money. The expedition rules limit the amount of discovery that is to be done, which greatly reduces legal bills. Contrastingly, under traditional civil procedure, unless the litigants agree and unless the trial court enters a scheduling order, discovery is limitless, which allows disinterested parties to drag on the case for years hoping the other party will eventually give up the lawsuit. In expedited cases discovery must be completed at least 60 days before trial, both parties may serve a maximum of 10 interrogatories, both parties may serve a maximum of 10 requests for production, and both parties may serve a maximum of 10 requests for admission. While this limited discovery may not be adequate in complex and substantial damages cases, in small civil cases, it will benefit both parties.
Civil litigation will fast-track with an option for expedition, and individuals may now have a guarantee that their case will be handled efficiently. If you are considering a civil lawsuit that exceeds the cap of small claims court but you don’t want to spend years involved in a costly lawsuit, contact a Goosmann Law Firm attorney to see if an expedited civil action is the right option for you.