General Civil Litigation
Overview of My Civil Litigation Practice
As a Michigan litigation attorney, I have over 23 years of experience in representing clients in difficult and complex Michigan civil litigation cases. I provide litigation and appellate representation on behalf of clients in a wide variety of Michigan civil litigation cases, including:
- Business Litigation
- Non-Compete Agreement Cases
- Partnership/Shareholder Disputes
- Minority Shareholder Oppression
- Michigan Sales Commission Disputes
- Breach of Contract Litigation
- Real Estate Litigation
- Trust and Estates Litigation
- Fraud and Misrepresentation Claims
- General Civil Litigation
Whether I represent a plaintiff or defendant, my goal is to protect my clients’ interests, and I work hard to reach a fair and equitable solution for every client who retains my services.
I understand that clients do not enjoy the litigation process or expense, and I work hard to achieve a good solution for the client as soon as possible under the circumstances. My goal is to achieve and maintain a proactive stance throughout each litigation case I undertake.
At the beginning of each litigation case I undertake, I work with my client to develop realistic and legally sound litigation and goals and strategies for optimal resolution of the case. Once those goals and strategies are established, I work to achieve the best possible resolution of the case in line with the client’s goals for the case.
Although I make every effort to settle my Michigan civil litigation cases whenever doing so is in a client’s best interests, I will aggressively pursue and protect my clients’ interests through litigation if settlement in not in their best interests.
Overview of a Typical Michigan Civil Litigation Case
Thanks to television and movies, many people have misconceptions about what is involved in a typical Michigan civil litigation case. The following is an overview of the typical life cycle of a civil litigation case in a Michigan circuit court.
A lawsuit typically proceeds through five basic phases:
- Initial pleadings
- Motions for summary disposition
- Post-trial and appeals.
A lawsuit is started when the plaintiff files a complaint with the court. If a plaintiff wants to have a jury decide the case, they must also file a “jury demand” at this initial stage of the case. Once a complaint is filed, the Michigan Court Rules give a defendant 21 or 28 days to file their answer, depending on how the complaint is served on the defendant.
Along with the answer, a defendant must file any “affirmative defenses” they may have to the plaintiff’s claims. Affirmative defenses are defenses that entitle the defendant to a dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit, even if the plaintiff’s claims are true. For example, a defendant may claim as an affirmative defense that a plaintiff has not filed their lawsuit within the time required under the applicable statute of limitations. If that is true, then even if what the plaintiff claims in their lawsuit is true, the case will be dismissed. Counterclaims may also be filed within the same deadline for filing an answer to a complaint. If a party wishes to file a counterclaim after the deadline for filing an answer has passed, they will need to permission from the court to do so.
If a plaintiff does not file a “jury demand” with their complaint, a defendant can file one with their answer, and the case will be decided by a jury, even if the plaintiff did not want a jury to hear their case.
In some circumstances, a case may be dismissed at the initial pleadings phase or judgment could be entered in favor of either party if appropriate. An example of this situation is if the plaintiff fails to state a legally recognizable claim against the defendant. Depending on the circumstances, a court could give the plaintiff the opportunity to “amend” their initial pleadings to cure the deficiency, or it could dismiss the case altogether.
If a Michigan litigation case proceeds past the initial pleadings phase, the next phase is what’s called the “discovery” phase. Discovery is where each party has the chance to gather facts and information needed to prove the various points of their respective cases. The parties can gather these facts and information from both their opponents in the case and third parties.
There are number of basic tools that parties to a litigation case can use to gather facts and information to support their case. These basic tools include:
- Written interrogatories.
- Requests for admission.
- Requests for production of documents.
- Mental or physical examination of a party.
Depending on the particular circumstances of a case, different discovery tools may be better suited for obtaining the desired information. However, a party may use as many or as few of these discovery tools as needed to accomplish their purposes. That said, duplicative or unduly burdensome discovery requests are technically not allowed, although Michigan courts have broad discretion to allow discovery on wide variety of topics related to a case.
It is important to know that discovery can often be very time consuming and expensive. Indeed, discovery is usually where much of a client’s money is spent during litigation. The good news is that it is not uncommon for cases to settle after discovery either because a party lacks sufficient facts to pursue the claim further and voluntarily resolves the case or because the court grants a motion to dismiss the case.
Summary Disposition Motions
Once discovery has been completed (and sometimes before), the defendant or plaintiff (or both) will typically ask the court to rule in their favor as a matter of law, without a trial. In Michigan state court cases, motions for summary disposition are governed by Rule 2.116 of the Michigan Court Rules.
In evaluating a request for summary disposition, the judge reviews the pleadings as well as the motions and briefs filed by each party essentially summarizing the case and articulating the reasons why that party should win the case without having to go to trial.
The judge also relies on admissible evidence gathered by the parties during the discovery phase of the lawsuit and presented to the court in connection with the motion(s) for summary disposition. It is important to remember that neither party is required to request summary disposition, but in most cases one or both parties usually files a summary disposition motion.
When reviewing the presented evidence, the judge must draw all inferences in favor of the party opposing the summary disposition, and may grant the motion only if there are no genuine issues of material fact and the party requesting summary judgment is entitled to it as a matter of law.
If a judge grants a motion for summary disposition, the case does not proceed to trial. However, the case may not be over since the party who loses a summary disposition motion is entitled to file an appeal of the judge’s decision.
If a judge does not grant a party summary disposition, and the parties do not settle, the case proceeds to trial.
A trial starts with each party giving its opening statements. After opening statements, the parties present their respective cases to the trier of fact. The trier of fact decides which party’s evidence is more believable. In a “bench” trial, the trier of fact is the judge. In a jury trial, the trier of fact is the jury. In civil cases, a party must demand a jury trial at the beginning of the case, or it will automatically be conducted as a bench trial.
While presenting their respective cases, each party tries to have evidence favorable to their case admitted to the trial record, so that it can be considered by the trier of fact. A party may object to the admission of the other party’s evidence if he or she believes that the evidence should not be admitted. Whether evidence is admitted to the record is governed by the Michigan Rules of Evidence, as interpreted by the judge presiding over the trial.
Once evidence has been presented by both sides, the parties make their closing arguments to the trier of fact. In many cases, one or both of the parties will ask the court for a “directed verdict” on the theory that the other side failed to prove the basic requirements of their case. If the court does not grant a directed verdict, the trier of fact will decide who wins the case.
Once the trier of fact renders a decision, it is memorialized in a judgment, which is entered by the court. At that point, the losing party can appeal the judgment. If the judgment is not appealed (or the appeal is unsuccessful), the winning party can enforce the judgment through a number of post-judgment proceedings.
Post-Trial and Appeals
Once a case has gone to trial (or has been dismissed before trial) and a judgment has been entered, the losing party has the right to appeal the judgment. In Michigan, there are two levels of appellate courts: the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court.
In civil cases, the first appeal is made to the Michigan Court of Appeals. This is what is known as an appeal “as of right”, meaning that the losing party is absolutely entitled to an appeal. However, under the Michigan Court Rules governing appeals, in order to take advantage of this absolute right, an appeal must be taken within 21 days after the court enters the judgment being appealed. Depending on the complexity of the case, an appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals can take as many as two years or more from start to finish.
If a party loses in the Michigan Court of Appeals, they can appeal further to the Michigan Supreme Court. However, this appeal is not an absolute right. Instead, a party who loses their appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals, must file what’s called an “application for leave to appeal” to the Michigan Supreme Court. If the Michigan Supreme Court accepts the case, that party gets another chance to argue its case under the governing standard of review. But, the chances of getting the Michigan Supreme Court to accept an appeal are slim. Over 2000 applications per year are filed with the Michigan Supreme Court, with the court accepting only a small number of those cases for consideration.
It is important to understand that each case is unique. The five basic phases listed above are just that, a general overview of the five basic phases in a typical litigation case. Depending on the particular circumstances of a case, things could be a little different than described above.
Please contact me if you need representation in a Michigan civil litigation case.
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