General Civil Matters
The following provides information about general civil matters. There is no specific information available in this Self-Help Center to aid you with the entire legal process in a general civil case. Online help is available from Michigan Legal Help to prepare forms through an automated interview process and to provide toolkits with legal articles, FAQs, procedure, and other resources for some civil matters. Because of the complexity of general civil cases or the amount of money involved, it may be advisable to contact an attorney.
Generally, a civil case is filed because of a disagreement between two people, businesses or organizations. The disagreement usually involves one person believing that he or she has been hurt or had rights violated or property damaged by another person. A civil case is not a criminal case.
If you are the one starting the case, you are called the plaintiff, and the person or business you are suing is called the defendant. In most civil cases, the plaintiff is asking for an amount of money to be paid by the defendant. However, in some civil cases, the plaintiff may be asking the court to tell the defendant to stop some behavior or to do a specific thing. The plaintiff is responsible for paying the filing fees as well as the cost of serving the defendant.
Types of Civil Cases
The most common types of civil cases are small claims, landlord-tenant, land contract forfeiture, civil infraction (both traffic and nontraffic) and civil damage actions. For specific information about small claims, landlord-tenant, land contract forfeiture, and civil infraction cases, see the other types of cases to the left.
Where to File Civil Cases
The district court will handle the case if the amount of the claim is for $25,000 or less. The case can be filed in the district court where the incident occurred or in the district court where the defendant lives. The filing fee varies with the amount of the claim.
The circuit court will handle the case if the amount of the claim is more than $25,000. The case can be filed in the circuit court where the incident occurred or in the circuit court in the county where the defendant lives.
For disputes involving amounts of $5,500 or less, the plaintiff can choose to file the case with the small claims division of the district court. The defendant can agree to have the case remain in small claims or can request the case be removed to the regular civil division. An attorney may not represent you in the small claims division.
The probate court will handle a civil case that arises from a dispute in a probate matter such as an estate, a trust, or a guardianship or conservatorship. The amount of the claim is not relevant. The civil case must be filed in the county where the probate court matter is being handled. If there is no underlying probate matter, the civil case must be filed in either the circuit court or district court based on the amount of the claim.
Processing Civil Cases Generally
Except for small claims, civil infractions, landlord-tenant, and land contract forfeiture cases, most civil cases are processed in the same manner. A complaint must be filed, fees must be paid, a summons must be issued, the parties must be served notice of the complaint, hearings must be scheduled and noticed, answers must be given, and hearings must be attended. The end result of the case will be entry of a judgment.
For more details about general case processing see General Information.