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Taking a Civil Case to General District Court (Part 1 of 3) - Filing and Serving Your Lawsuit

Authored By: Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, Inc. LSC Funded
Contents

Information

How to Take a Civil (Non-Criminal) Lawsuit to General District Court

What and where is the General District Court?

Virginia has a system of General District Courts. Each county or city in Virginia has a General District Court. This court does not have jury trials. All cases are heard by a judge.

What types of lawsuits can be filed in the General District Court?

You may file a lawsuit for money or for return of your property. You can file a lawsuit for up to $15,000. You may file either lawsuit by yourself, without an attorney.

What is the Small Claims Division?

Each General District Court also has a Small Claims Division, where attorneys are not allowed. You can file a lawsuit in the Small Claims Division for up to $5,000.

What should I do before I file a lawsuit for money?

Before you sue someone for money, you should decide why they owe you money and how much they owe. You should have asked them to pay the money they owe, and you should sue when they refuse to pay. Some of the more common claims for money involve unpaid debts, broken contracts, unpaid wages, unreturned security deposits, and injuries to people or property.In a lawsuit for money, you have to prove the other side did not fulfill a legal duty, such as these.

  • A duty to use ordinary care.
  • duty to use workman like care.
  • A duty to fulfill an agreement or a contract.
  • duty to follow a legal requirement or obligation.


You also have to prove how much you are owed. This depends on the type of lawsuit. In

a lawsuit for money you are owed, such as unpaid debts or wages, you have to prove the amount you are owed. In a lawsuit for injury to property, you have to prove the amount of damages or the fair market value of the property. Fair market value is not what you paid for the item when you bought it. It is not how much it will cost you to replace the item. It is how much a stranger would pay for that same item at a yard sale.

How do I file a lawsuit for money?

To file this lawsuit, you must go to the General District Court Clerk's office. Ask for the proper court form. To sue for money, fill out a "Warrant in Debt." Even though this court form is called a "warrant," it is not used in a criminal case. It is used in a civil (non-criminal) case.

You will need to state in a few words why the person or business you are suing owes you money. You also need to state the most money you could be owed. You can't get a judgment for any amount larger than what you sued for.

Where do I file a lawsuit for money?

You must file in one of two places. One place is the county or city where the person or business you want to sue is located. The other place is the county or city where your claim for money arose.

What should I do before I file a lawsuit for return of property?

Before you sue someone for return of property, you might trying calling law enforcement. It is theft for someone to take your property and not return it. If law enforcement agrees there may be theft, they may arrest the person who has your property and file a criminal charge against the person. If they can, law enforcement also will get your property back for you.

Sometimes, the person who has your property claims the right to keep it. If that happens, law enforcement probably will not file a criminal charge, and will tell you to go to court to get your property back. In a lawsuit for return of property, you have to prove these things.

  • The property is yours.
  • The person you are suing has that property.
  • The person did not return the property after you asked for it back.
  • The amount of damages or the fair market value of the property.


Fair market value is not what you paid for the item when you bought it. It is not how much it will cost you to replace the item. It is how much a stranger would pay for that same item at a yard sale.

How do I file a lawsuit for return of property?

To file this lawsuit, you must go to the General District Court Clerk's office. Ask for the proper court form. To sue for return of property, fill out a "Warrant in Detinue." Even though this court form is called a "warrant," it is not used in a criminal case. It is used in a civil (non-criminal) case.

You will need to list each item of property you want returned and give a value for each item. If you forget to list any item, you will not be able to get that item back without filing another Warrant in Detinue.

Where do I file a lawsuit for return of property?

You must file in one of two places. One place is the county or city where the property is located. The other place is the county or city where the person or business you want to sue is located.

What are the steps in a General District Court lawsuit?

  • Papers are filed with the court.
  • The court papers are served (legally delivered) on all the parties.
  • A hearing is held before the General District Court.
  • A written order or judgment is issued.


What does it cost to file and serve a General District Court lawsuit?

If your lawsuit is for more than $200, the filing fee is $26, plus $12 for each person or business you are suing. If your lawsuit is for $200 or less, the filing fee is $21, plus $12 for each person or business you are suing. If you win the judgment will include your filing & service fees.

What if I can't afford the filing and service fees?

If you can't afford the filing and service fees, ask for the "Petition for Proceeding in Civil Case Without Payment of Fees or Costs." This also is called "Form CC-1414." The Affidavit asks for this information.

  • Whether you get Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Food Stamps.
  • Your take home pay and other income.
  • Your assets, such as money in a bank account, cash, homeownership, etc.
  • Your unusual expenses, such as medical, court ordered child and spousal support, and child care.
  • Number of people you support.
  • Number of people you live with.


You must be a Virginia resident to file this form. Only the Judge can grant your request to proceed without paying filing or service fees.

What do I need when I file a lawsuit in General District Court?

You must have the complete name and address of the business or person you want to sue. The address must be a physical address, not a mailing address such as a post office box. The name of the business or person must be correct. Sometimes, a business or person will not use their real name. This is an "assumed or fictitious" name. The Circuit Court Clerk has a list of these names. If you are suing a corporation, you need the name and address of its registered agent. You can get this by calling the State Corporation Commission at (804) 371-9733. List the name and address of the agent on the Warrant along with the name and address of the Corporation.

Write on the warrant your name and address, the name and address of the business or person you want to sue, the amount of your claim, and the reason for your lawsuit. After your warrant is filed, the clerk should give you two copies. Mail one copy to the business or person you?re suing, at least 10 days before trial. Ask for the "Certificate of Mailing." This also is called "Form DC-413." Fill it out and file it with the court on or before the first hearing date.

The warrant says when and where to appear for court. The clerk gives a copy of the warrant to the Sheriff's Department to deliver (or serve) on the business or person you're suing. Your lawsuit can't be heard unless the other side is served.

How long do I have to file my lawsuit?

You can't wait forever to file your lawsuit. The time is set by law, and depends on the type of lawsuit. You must file your lawsuit within a period called the "statute of limitations." If your claim is based on personal injuries, you have 2 years. If your claim is based on an oral agreement or contract, you have 3 years. If your claim is based on a written agreement or contract, you have 5 years. Some claims must be filed within one year. You should file your lawsuit as soon as possible.

In a detinue case for return of property you left someplace, you may not have very long to file. Property you left someplace could be treated as abandoned, so you should file as soon as possible. Any delay could result in losing your case.

What happens after I file court papers?

The court papers must be served (legally delivered) on all other parties. The papers must be served at least five days before the court hearing. The papers tell all parties the date, time, and place of the General District Court hearing. This hearing may be the only chance for the parties to have their dispute heard by a judge.

How do the court papers get served?

Court papers may be served on a party in Virginia in three different ways.

  • Given in person, usually by a Deputy Sheriff.
  • Given to a member of the household, usually by a Deputy Sheriff. The household member must be 16 or older. The person serving the court papers must explain what they are.
  • Posted on the front door and then mailed to the party by first class mail.


Court papers can be legally served on you, even if you never actually get them. If they were properly given to a household member who didn't tell you about them, you still were legally served. If they were properly posted and mailed to you but you never saw them, you still were legally served. Both these things are unusual, but they do happen. You should tell household members to pay attention to court papers, and you should pay attention yourself.

If a party does not live in Virginia, how do the papers get served?

Generally, court papers are served on a party outside Virginia in two different ways.

One way is by mailing a copy to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, who in turn mails a copy to the party who does not live in Virginia. To do this, ask for the "Affidavit for Service of Process on the Secretary of the Commonwealth." This also is called "Form DC-410." The Affidavit asks for this information.

  • The name and physical address of the out-of-state party.
  • The reason why the out-of-state party can be sued in Virginia. These reasons are called the "Non-Residence Grounds Requirement." They are listed on the back of the Affidavit.


The other way is by delivering a copy in person, usually by a Deputy Sheriff in the other state. To do this, ask for the "Service Other Than By Virginia Sheriff." This also is called "Form DC-411." To use this form, you will need this information.

  • The name and physical address of the out-of-state party.
  • The name and address of the out-of-state Sheriff's office
  • How much the out-of-state Sheriff's office will charge for service of process. You will need to pay these fees directly to the out-of-state Sheriff's office.


If a party is in jail or prison, how do the papers get served?

If a party is jailed, court papers still can be served on the party in the usual ways. However, if a party is jailed, under the age of 18, in a mental hospital, or legally not competent, another step is needed. An order or judgment can't be entered unless the court appoints an attorney for that party. This attorney is called a Guardian Ad Litem. The attorney's fees usually have to be paid by the person filing the case.

If a party's whereabouts are not known, how do the papers get served?

If a party can't be found but lives in Virginia, you can use the "Affidavit for Service of Process on the Secretary of the Commonwealth." This also is called "Form DC-410." The Affidavit asks for this information.

  • The name and physical address of the party.
  • That you have tried to find the party's actual physical address.

FAQ

What and where is the General District Court?

Virginia has a system of General District Courts. Each county or city in Virginia has a General District Court. This court does not have jury trials. All cases are heard by a judge.

What types of lawsuits can be filed in the General District Court?

You may file a lawsuit for money or for return of your property. You can file a lawsuit for up to $15,000. You may file either lawsuit by yourself, without an attorney.

What is the Small Claims Division?

Each General District Court also has a Small Claims Division, where attorneys are not allowed. You can file a lawsuit in the Small Claims Division for up to $5,000.

What should I do before I file a lawsuit for money?

Before you sue someone for money, you should decide why they owe you money and how much they owe. You should have asked them to pay the money they owe, and you should sue when they refuse to pay. Some of the more common claims for money involve unpaid debts, broken contracts, unpaid wages, unreturned security deposits, and injuries to people or property. In a lawsuit for money, you have to prove the other side did not fulfill a legal duty, such as these:

• A duty to use ordinary care.

• A duty to use workman like care.

• A duty to fulfill an agreement or a contract.

• A duty to follow a legal requirement or obligation.

You also have to prove how much you are owed. This depends on the type of lawsuit. In a lawsuit for money you are owed, such as unpaid debts or wages, you have to prove the amount you are owed. In a lawsuit for injury to property, you have to prove the amount of damages or the fair market value of the property. Fair market value is not what you paid for the item when you bought it. It is not how much it will cost you to replace the item. It is how much a stranger would pay for that same item at a yard sale.

How do I file a lawsuit for money?

To file this lawsuit, you must go to the General District Court Clerk's office. Ask for the proper court form. To sue for money, fill out a "Warrant in Debt." Even though this court form is called a "warrant," it is not used in a criminal case. It is used in a civil (non-criminal) case.

You will need to state in a few words why the person or business you are suing owes you money. You also need to state the most money you could be owed. You can't get a judgment for any amount larger than what you sued for.

Where do I file a lawsuit for money?

You must file in one of two places. One place is the county or city where the person or business you want to sue is located. The other place is the county or city where your claim for money arose.

What should I do before I file a lawsuit for return of property?

Before you sue someone for return of property, you might trying calling law enforcement. It is theft for someone to take your property and not return it. If law enforcement agrees there may be theft, they may arrest the person who has your property and file a criminal charge against the person. If they can, law enforcement also will get your property back for you.

Sometimes, the person who has your property claims the right to keep it. If that happens, law enforcement probably will not file a criminal charge, and will tell you to go to court to get your property back. In a lawsuit for return of property, you have to prove these things:

• The property is yours.

• The person you are suing has that property.

• The person did not return the property after you asked for it back.

The amount of damages or the fair market value of the property.

Fair market value is not what you paid for the item when you bought it. It is not howmuch it will cost you to replace the item. It is how much a stranger would pay for that same item at a yard sale.

How do I file a lawsuit for return of property?

To file this lawsuit, you must go to the General District Court Clerk's office. Ask for the proper court form. To sue for return of property, fill out a "Warrant in Detinue." Even though this court form is called a "warrant," it is not used in a criminal case. It is used in a civil (non-criminal) case.

You will need to list each item of property you want returned and give a value for each item. If you forget to list any item, you will not be able to get that item back without filing another Warrant in Detinue.

Where do I file a lawsuit for return of property?

You must file in one of two places. One place is the county or city where the property is located. The other place is the county or city where the person or business you want to sue is located.

What are the steps in a General District Court lawsuit?

• Papers are filed with the court.

• The court papers are served (legally delivered) on all the parties.

• A hearing is held before the General District Court.

• A written order or judgment is issued.

What does it cost to file and serve a General District Court lawsuit?

If your lawsuit is for more than $200, the filing fee is $26, plus $12 for each person or business you are suing. If your lawsuit is for $200 or less, the filing fee is $21, plus $12 for each person or business you are suing. If you win, the judgment will include your filing and service fees.

What if I can’t afford the filing and service fees?

If you can't afford the filing and service fees, ask for the "Petition for Proceeding in Civil Case Without Payment of Fees or Costs." This also is called "Form CC-1414." The Affidavit asks for this information:

• Whether you get Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Food Stamps.

• Your take home pay and other income.

• Your assets, such as money in a bank account, cash, homeownership, etc.

• Your unusual expenses, such as medical, court ordered child and spousal support, and child care.

• Number of people you support.

• Number of people you live with.

You must be a Virginia resident to file this form. Only the Judge can grant your request to proceed without paying filing or service fees.

What do I need when I file a lawsuit in General District Court?

You must have the complete name and address of the business or person you want to sue. The address must be a physical address, not a mailing address such as a post office box. The name of the business or person must be correct. Sometimes, a business or person will not use their real name. This is an "assumed or fictitious" name. The Circuit Court Clerk has a list of these names. If you are suing a corporation, you need the name and address of its registered agent. You can get this by calling the State Corporation Commission at (804) 371-9733.

Write on the warrant your name and address, the name and address of the business or person you want to sue, the amount of your claim, and the reason for your lawsuit. After your warrant is filed, the clerk should give you two copies. Mail one copy to the business or person you're suing, at least 10 days before trial. Ask for the "Certificate of Mailing." This also is called "Form DC-413." Fill it out and file it with the court on or before the first hearing date.

The warrant says when and where to appear for court. The clerk gives a copy of the warrant to the Sheriff's Department to deliver (or serve) on the business or person you're suing. Your lawsuit can't be heard unless the other side is served.

How long do I have to file my lawsuit?

You can't wait forever to file your lawsuit. The time is set by law, and depends on the type of lawsuit. You must file your lawsuit within a period called the "statute of limitations." If your claim is based on personal injuries, you have 2 years. If your claim is based on an oral agreement or contract, you have 3 years. If your claim is based on a written agreement or contract, you have 5 years. Some claims must be filed within one year. You should file your lawsuit as soon as possible.

In a detinue case for return of property you left someplace, you may not have very long to file. Property you left someplace could be treated as abandoned, so you should file as soon as possible. Any delay could result in losing your case.

What happens after I file court papers?

The court papers must be served (legally delivered) on all other parties. The papers must be served at least five days before the court hearing. The papers tell all parties the date, time, and place of the General District Court hearing. This hearing may be the only chance for the parties to have their dispute heard by a judge.

How do the court papers get served?

Court papers may be served on a party in Virginia in three different ways:

• Given in person, usually by a Deputy Sheriff.

• Given to a member of the household, usually by a Deputy Sheriff. The household

member must be 16 or older. The person serving the court papers must explain what they are.

• Posted on the front door and then mailed to the party by first class mail.

Court papers can be legally served on you, even if you never actually get them. If they were properly given to a household member who didn't tell you about them, you still were legally served. If they were properly posted and mailed to you but you never saw them, you still were legally served. Both these things are unusual, but they do happen. You should tell household members to pay attention to court papers, and you should pay attention yourself

If a party does not live in Virginia, how do the papers get served?

Generally, court papers are served on a party outside Virginia in two different ways.

One way is by mailing a copy to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, who in turn mails a copy to the party who does not live in Virginia. To do this, ask for the "Affidavit for Service of Process on the Secretary of the Commonwealth." This also is called "Form DC-410." The Affidavit asks for this information:

• The name and physical address of the out-of-state party.

• The reason why the out-of-state party can be sued in Virginia. These reasons are called

the "Non-Residence Grounds Requirement." They are listed on the back of the Affidavit.

The other way is by delivering a copy in person, usually by a Deputy Sheriff in the other state. To do this, ask for the "Service Other Than By Virginia Sheriff." This also is called "Form DC-411." To use this form, you will need this information:

• The name and physical address of the out-of-state party.

• The name and address of the out-of-state Sheriff's office

• How much the out-of-state Sheriff's office will charge for service of process. You will need to pay these fees directly to the out-of-state Sheriff's office.

If a party is in jail or prison, how do the papers get served?

If a party is jailed, court papers still can be served on the party in the usual ways. However, if a party is jailed, under the age of 18, in a mental hospital, or legally not competent, another step is needed. An order or judgment can't be entered unless the court appoints an attorney for that party. This attorney is called a Guardian Ad Litem. The attorney's fees usually have to be paid by the person filing the case.

If a party’s whereabouts are not known, how do the papers get served?

If a party can't be found but lives in Virginia, you can use the "Affidavit for Service of Process on the Secretary of the Commonwealth." This also is called "Form DC-410." The Affidavit asks for this information:

• The name and physical address of the party.

• That you have tried to find the party's actual physical address.

• That the Sheriff has been unable to serve the party. This is called the "Due Diligence Requirement."

Last Review and Update: Apr 25, 2012