General district court raises its jurisdictional limits

The general district court (GDC) currently handles civil matters valued less than $25,000. The last time the General Assembly raised these limits was over ten years ago. Senate Bill 1108 seeks to change these limits once again. This bill was first introduced by William Stanley, Jr. in the Senate, and passed both the Senate and the House in 2021. If signed by the governor, GDC courts would now have jurisdiction over civil matters up to $50,000 in value.

judge in court

How does this help?

Since the start of COVID, many cases have been put on hold. This creates a large backlog in cases at both the GDC and circuit court levels. As a result, everyone is frustrated because it takes even more time for a case to reach a resolution. Enter SB110.

1. This bill will help alleviate the stress on Circuit Courts by allowing more new cases to be filed in GDC.

  • Before this bill takes effect, GDC could only hear civil cases valued at $25,000 or less.
  • Once this bill takes effect, civil cases valued between $25,000 – $50,000 can now be filed in GDC instead of CC.

2. This bill will help alleviate the stress on circuit courts by allowing existing cases to be transferred down to GDC for a quicker trial date and resolution.

gavel and a face mask

How does COVID affect the general district court?

COVID-19 initially affected all courts. However, circuit courts have been far slower to reopen. Each individual court needs to be approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia before it can resume trials. Even after this approval, most are not operating at full capacity. This is not the case in GDC. Far fewer people are involved in trying a case, and each case takes an average of about one hour to try from start to finish. This has allowed GDC trials to proceed almost normally.

The right to a trial by jury is preserved despite this change. Under Va. Code §16.1-106, any party may appeal a judgment from general district court, and ask for a jury trial in circuit court. The change in GDC limits doesn’t prejudice any party, but rather gives them a chance to reconcile their differences before taking up the time of seven strangers sitting in judgment of the case on a jury in circuit court.

Overall, this is great news for some plaintiffs, and will be a cause for celebration once the governor signs the bill. If signed, this bill will go into effect as early as July 1, 2021.