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North Carolina Court Records

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What are North Carolina Small Claims Cases and Class Action Lawsuits?

Class action suits and small claims are procedural devices for civil redress in North Carolina. The North Carolina judiciary adjudicates these lawsuits and provides systematic instructions for filing and responding to such complaints. Records of the litigation are open and available to the public through the official custodian.  

What is a Class Action Lawsuit in North Carolina?

The legal action arises when plaintiffs have a unified complaint against the defendant and elect a representing plaintiff who files the suit and represents everyone during the proceedings. Class action suits in North Carolina follow the Rules of Civil Procedure (G. S. 1A–1, Rule 23)..

How do I File a Claim in a North Carolina Small Claims Court?

North Carolina judiciary provides systematic instructions for filing small claims in the state. Generally, a small claims case involves a suit seeking civil redress in amounts of up to $5000 and $10000—the maximum amount depends on the county. A small claims case begins viz:

  • Filing the complaint: The plaintiff proceeds to the office of the clerk of Superior court in the county where at least one of the defendants has primary residency. The plaintiff must complete and submit the specific forms applicable to the case and submit copies of the complaint, affidavit, and required documents to the clerk.
  • Paying the filing fees: The plaintiff must then pay the filing fee. If he/she is unable to pay the filing fee, he/she may request to file as indigent by completing a petition to proceed as an indigent.
  • Serving the defendant: The plaintiff must serve the defendant with a summons and a copy of the complaint. The plaintiff may also contact the sheriff’s office to complete the Service of Process (SoP). A neutral party may also complete the service.
  • Mediation: This tool allows the litigants to resolve the dispute without going to trial, i.e., settle out of court. Small claims suits are eligible for mediation before the court hearing.
  • Court hearing: After filing the case, the plaintiff must also schedule a hearing date. The hearing date is typically within thirty (30) days of filing the complaint. Both sides have the option of filing an appeal if the adjudication of the case is unfavorable.

Do I Need a Small Claims Lawyer?

No. While a small claims lawyer offers a professional assessment of a claim, legal advice, and representation during trial, the North Carolina justice system is also accessible to self-represented litigants. However, pro se litigants follow and observe the same rules of procedure and evidence as licensed attorneys. The judiciary prohibits court personnel from giving legal advice, but it makes self-help resources available for interested persons.

How do Class Action Lawsuits Work in North Carolina?

The process of filing and processing a class-action suit in North Carolina is similar to other civil cases, as specified in the Rules of Civil Procedure. However, a class action suit is unique in several ways, e.g., the threshold stage where the court examines the merits of a case for certification as a class action. The court has broad discretion in certifying a class action. Some of the factors considered include:

  • The Existence of a Class: Here, the court considers whether there is a common interest in the issue of law or a disputed fact. Furthermore, the court weighs the common issue over individual Issues.  
  • Adequate Representation: The court examines the representing plaintiffs for fair representation of the members of the class. Ergo, the representing parties must have a genuine interest in the case and no conflict of interest.
  • Class Members: Although the law does not set a limit on the numbers, the number of plaintiffs must demonstrate practicality, i.e., a class action prevents multiplicity and inconsistent rulings on similar suits by different persons.
  • Notice: All potential class members must receive advance notice of action and be allowed to seek exclusion from the suit.  

Class action suits tend to take longer than single party suits, although the cost of litigation reduces comparatively. The length of time it takes to process a class action suit depends on several factors such as the time it takes to complete the notice, certification, deposition, and discovery.  Common examples of class action suits in North Carolina involve:

  • Labor and employment, e.g., cases arising from the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act
  • Consumer protection
  • Products liability
  • Shareholder litigation

Is a Class Action Better Than a Single Party Suit?

Yes. Single party suits have several limitations. For one, there is a very high chance that individuals will receive different rulings based on the same complaint. Single party suits result in inconsistency, and inconsistent rulings raise concerns on the fairness of the judicial system. Likewise, single party suits are generally more expensive. Class action suits allow parties to pool resources and bear the cost of the litigation. Another advantage is that class action suits put more pressure on the defendant accused of wrongdoing. Thus, the class members (represented by selected plaintiffs) have an advantage when negotiating out-of-court settlements. A single party suit seldom enjoys these benefits.

What Cases are Heard by Small Claims Courts in North Carolina?

Some of the common small claims cases in North Carolina include:

  • Landlord and tenant disputes
  • Eviction cases
  • Return of personal property less than $10,000
  • Actions for the enforcement of motor vehicle mechanic
  • Actions for the enforcement of storage liens
  • Other civil cases where the damages sought is less than $10,000

As with all civil cases, court records of small claims and class action cases are available to interested members of the public upon request. To obtain these records, visit the office of the clerk of presiding court in the county where the plaintiff filed the case. Requesters may also use the remote public access program.  

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the document or person involved 

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary. 

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