By Jedidiah McKeehan
Most people have heard of small claims court. In Tennessee, the court most people would consider “small claims” court is called general sessions court. In civil cases in Tennessee, you can sue for up to $25,000.00 in the general sessions court. Even though people may call the general sessions court the small claims court, $25,000.00 is a whole lot of money!
General sessions court is set up as a court where you can get in front of a judge quickly and have your case resolved in a matter of weeks. In the legal system, having a case resolved in a matter of weeks is a quick turnaround. In general sessions, there is no jury. Some people have attorneys, some do not. The judge may have over 100 cases set for one day in general sessions.
Most of these cases are resolved without a trial. However, some do end up in trial. The judge will hear from both sides and make a ruling. When I am representing people in general sessions civil cases, I tell them to take these rulings in stride if they do not go their way. Why is that?
Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-5-108 allows either party the automatic right to appeal the ruling of the general sessions court within 10 days of the ruling. If either party appeals then the case is heard by the circuit court on a de novo basis. “De novo” means that the case will start, “a new,” or “from the beginning.” The prior ruling by the judge in general sessions court is supposed to have no bearing on the case now that it is in a new court.
The circuit court case process typically takes much longer. Cases can drag on for months, if not years. Additionally, at the circuit court level, you can request that a jury be present to reach a verdict on your case.
So if you have a case in “small claims” court and you do not like the ruling you were given by the judge, you may appeal that decision to the circuit court within 10 days of the ruling being given.
Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties. He works in many areas, including divorce, custody, criminal, and personal injury. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.