When I was growing, up here in McNairy County, I never really understood our court system. In fact, it was not until my college days that I really began to understand and realize the purpose of the different courts in our county. There are basically three different civil court (non-criminal) systems in our county not including juvenile court and the various municipal courts. And by the way, I am referring to civil cases here as those cases involving disputes between citizens and not those involving the State of Tennessee in a criminal matter. The three civil courts are general sessions (where I am the judge), chancery, and circuit court. All three courts hear different kinds of cases.
Chancery court hears matters of equity, including land disputes, dissolution of partnerships and corporations, estates, and worker’s compensation (at least until July 1, 2013, when the Tennessee State Legislature’s decision to remove worker’s compensation disputes from the court system takes affect). I will have more on that horrible decision at a later time.
General sessions court hears various civil matters, but its jurisdiction to hear many cases is limited, in that the amount in controversy must be less than $25,000.00. Landlord-tenant actions, collection actions by banks, hospitals, and credit card companies, and various other civil matters are all heard in general sessions court, subject to the above mentioned limitation of $25,000.00.
Circuit court hears all kinds of civil matters including those matters above the general sessions’ limitation of $25,000.00. The types of cases you will find being heard in civil circuit court are personal injury, wrongful death complaints, violations of civil rights, contract disputes, and appeals from general sessions. Additionally, in circuit, and in some instances in chancery, the parties have the option of having a jury trial as opposed to a “bench trial” where the judge decides the outcome of the case. General sessions is the only court, of the three, where the parties do not have the option of having a jury trial.
In some instances, the same type of case may be heard in any of the three courts and it’s the decision of the plaintiff or petitioner that files the case as to which court will hear the case. A good example of this is divorce cases. A divorce may be heard in any of the three mentioned courts. Your local attorney can provide you with very valuable advice on which court might be better suited for your particular case.