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COURTS DEFINED

Although there are other specialized courts, the following are the ones that most impact homeowners associations.

Small Claims Court. Small claims court can only hear and decide cases that claim damages of limited dollar amounts. The parties cannot be represented by a lawyer; they must represent themselves. A defendant who loses in small claims may have the case reheard in superior court. Plaintiffs who lose may not appeal. 

Superior Court. Superior courts have general subject matter jurisdiction and handle both civil and criminal cases. Superior courts are separated into divisions for limited jurisdiction (cases involving claims for less than $35,000) and unlimited jurisdiction (claims for more than $35,000). Superior courts have the power to order injunctive relief. Decisions made in the superior court are not binding on other courts. Parties who lose in superior court may appeal to California's Court of Appeal.

Courts of Appeal. The Court of Appeal is divided into six districts. Panels of three justices are selected to review lower court cases. The justices review case files and transcripts to decide if legal errors were made in the case. Decisions made by courts of appeal are binding on all lower courts.

Supreme Court. California's Supreme Court is the highest court in the state. Like Courts of Appeal, it does not use juries or take testimony. Instead, seven justices hear appeals to determine if errors were made in a superior court case (once the issue has been heard by a court of appeal). At least 4 of the seven justices must agree on the final decision.

TERMINOLOGY

decree is a judgment by a court of equity, admiralty, divorce, or probate granting relief to a party. A decree is also referred to as a judgment.

judgment is a court's final determination of the rights and obligations of the parties.

An opinion is a court's statement of relevant facts, applicable points of law, and reasoning that led to the court's decision.

An order is issued by a court requiring a person to do or not do something.

ruling is the outcome of a court's decision, whether on some particular point of law (such as the admissibility of evidence) or on the case as a whole. A ruling may lead to an order.

verdict is delivered by a jury, which decides whether the evidence satisfies the elements of a claim.

ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.

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