This past weekend I was reading Kings of Tort: The True Story of Dickie Scruggs, Paul Minor and Two Decades of Political and Legal Manipulation in Mississippi, written by Alan Lange and Tom Dawson. The authors write that Scruggs strategically filed the tobacco lawsuit in Jackson County Chancery Court rather than Circuit Court in order to have a venue that was unfriendly to the tobacco companies. This got me thinking that many people might not know what the differences are between the two courts.
Chancery Court or “equity court” is for cases where something needs to be resolved – one of the parties needs to do something or to stop doing something. The plaintiff is not asking for money but for a decree or an injunction. In Chancery Court, you do not have the right to a jury trial and your claim will be reviewed by a judge. Chancery cases can involve property issues, fulfillment of contracts, divorce, child custody, adoption, estates and wills, emancipation and guardianship of minors, and committing someone to an institution.
If a case is primarily concerned with awarding monetary damages, such as a medical malpractice claim, that case would be heard in Circuit Court. Criminal matters are also filed in Circuit Court because you do not have a right to a jury trial in Chancery Court.
In general, if you are hurt in a car accident, you would file your personal injury claim in Circuit Court because you are asking for monetary damages to compensate you for property damage, medical bills and pain and suffering. But if your neighbor has built a fence on your property and you want them to remove the fence, you would file your claim in Chancery Court because you are asking for a specific action rather than money. Another example would be if you inherited property and there is a dispute among the heirs, you would file a claim in Chancery Court to ask the Court to divide the property fairly.