Can a lawsuit be filed in a magistrate’s court for over the dollar limit that the court is supposed to handle?

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Can a lawsuit be filed in a magistrate’s court for over the dollar limit that the court is supposed to handle?

My homeowner’s association filed a lawsuit in court for past dues. The suit is over the courts limits. The suit claims that I owe over $18,000. As far as I understand, the magistrate’s court can only oversee cases below $8,000. What should I do?

Asked on January 9, 2011 under Bankruptcy Law, Pennsylvania

Answers:

M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Yes, you have pin pointed an issue that will indeed get the matter dismissed by the court. In order for a court to be able to hear a case it has to have what is known as subject matter jurisdiction as well as obtain personal jurisdiction over the parties to the suit.  Some courts are indeed limited to hearing cases by a monetary amount.  If the amount being sought is over the monetary amount then the matter must go to the next highest court that can hear their case.  What you need to do is to answer and raise an affirmative defense that the court lacks the jurisdiction to hear the case because the amount being sued for is over the monetary amount permitted in this court.  Good luck.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

You need to respond to the lawsuit as if it is a real suit--which it is. That's because one of two things could happen--either the association could voluntarily reduce or truncate their suit (the amount sued for, that is) to keep it under the magistrate court's threshold; or alternately, they could seek to either remove the case to a different court with a higher jurisdictional limit or simply refile in a new court. Therefore, given that at least $8k will be at stake, possibly $18k, you should get a lawyer to defend you...or, if you don't think there's a defense and/or can't pay this amount, you may wish to consult with a bankruptcy attorney about whether you could file bankruptcy to discharge and avoid paying this debt, or at least reduce the amount of it you'd have to pay.


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