Types of Courts
The circuit court is the trial court with the broadest powers in Michigan. In general, the circuit court handles all civil cases with claims of more than $25,000 and all felony criminal cases (cases where the accused, if found guilty, could be sent to prison). The family division of circuit court handles all cases regarding divorce, paternity, adoptions, personal protection actions, emancipation of minors, treatment and testing of infectious disease, safe delivery of newborns, name changes, juvenile offenses and delinquency, juvenile guardianship, and child abuse and neglect. In addition, the circuit court hears cases appealed from the other trial courts or from administrative agencies.
The friend of the court office is part of the family division of the circuit court and handles domestic relations cases where minor children are involved.
There are 57 circuit courts in Michigan. Circuit court judges are elected for six-year terms.
The district court is often called the people's court. More people have contact with the district court than any other court. The district court handles most traffic violations, all civil cases with claims up to $25,000, landlord-tenant matters, most traffic tickets, and all misdemeanor criminal cases (generally, cases where the accused, if found guilty, cannot be sentenced to more than one year in jail). In addition, small claims cases are heard by a division of the district court. In Michigan, a few municipalities have chosen to retain a municipal court rather than create a district court. The municipal courts have limited powers and are located in Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe Park, and Grosse Point Shores/Grosse Pointe Woods.
All criminal cases, for persons 17 years or older, begin in the district court. The district court explains to the defendant the charges, his or her rights, and the possible consequences if convicted of the charge. The court also determines the bail amount and collects bail. If the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor that is punishable by not more than one year in jail, the district court will conduct a trial and sentence the defendant if found guilty. In felony cases (generally, cases that are punishable by more than one year in prison) the district court will set the bail amount and hold a preliminary examination to determine if a crime was committed and if there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crime. If so, the case is transferred to the circuit court for trial.
There are approximately 100 district courts in Michigan. District court judges are elected for six-year terms.
Small Claims Court
When you are suing someone for $3,000 or less, your case can be heard in the small claims division of the district court. Your case may be heard by a judge or an attorney magistrate.
In small claims cases, the parties represent themselves. You cannot have an attorney present your case. In addition, the judge's decision is final and cannot be appealed. If either party objects to these conditions, the case will be transferred to the district court for a hearing. However, if the case is heard by an attorney magistrate, the decision may be appealed to the district judge for a new hearing.
The defendant can request that a small claims case be removed to the regular civil division. If that occurs, all parties may have attorneys. Processing of the case then follows the pattern of a regular civil case and the decision may be appealed to the circuit court.
The probate court handles wills, administers estates and trusts, appoints guardians and conservators, and orders treatment for mentally ill and developmentally disabled persons.
There are 79 probate courts in Michigan; probate judges are elected for six-year terms.
Court of Claims
For cases filed against the State of Michigan in which a claim for money damages is made, there is a Court of Claims. The Court of Claims is part of the 30th Circuit Court and is located in Ingham County.
The Court of Claims is a specialized court that handles only claims over $1,000 filed against the State of Michigan or one of its departments. Claims for less than $1,000 are filed with the State Administrative Board. The court of claims may combine similar cases together and conduct one hearing for all such cases.
All trials heard by the court of claims are heard by a judge, not a jury.
Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals is an "intermediate" appellate court between the Supreme Court and the Michigan trial courts. Final decisions resulting from a circuit or probate court hearing may be appealed to the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals judges are elected for six-year terms. Court of Appeals hearings are held in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Marquette. Hearings are held before a panel of three Court of Appeals judges and at least two of the three judges must agree on the ruling. The decision of the panel is final except for those cases that the Supreme Court reviews.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the state, hearing cases appealed to it from other Michigan courts. Cases are appealed to the Supreme Court by filing an application for "leave to appeal." The Supreme Court has the authority to grant or deny any application. This means if an application is granted, the Supreme Court will hear the case; if denied, the decision made by the lower court remains unchanged. The Supreme Court usually selects cases involving important constitutional issues and questions of public significance.
In addition to its judicial duties, the Supreme Court is responsible for the general administrative supervision of all courts in the state, which it does with the assistance of the State Court Administrative Office. The Supreme Court also establishes rules for practice and procedure in all Michigan courts.
The Supreme Court consists of seven justices. The justices are elected to serve eight-year terms. Every two years the justices vote to elect a chief justice.
The bankruptcy court is a federal court with two locations in Michigan. Bankruptcy cases are handled in the federal district court, not the state courts.