Tennessee has one of the most complex court systems in the United States. There are really three that you, as a consumer sued by banks, debt collectors, or debt buyers will find yourself in. You will either be in General Sessions Court, Circuit Court, or Chancery Court.
First as it applies to civil lawsuits, General Sessions jurisdiction extends to lawsuits where the amount in controversy is twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) or less and apply to issues of law and equity. This is almost all collection cases. Tennessee Code Annotated §16-15-406 states, “Judges of the courts of general sessions shall adopt such rules as may be necessary to expedite the trial and disposal of cases.” The goal is to get cases and close cases in as expeditious a manner as possible. So much so that the Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure do not apply in General Sessions cases unless the General sessions Court is “exercising civil jurisdiction of the circuit or chancery courts” or “after appeal or transfer of a general sessions civil lawsuit to circuit court.” (Tenn. R. Civ. Pro. Rule 1). That last part is there because “[a]ny party may appeal from a decision of the general sessions court to the circuit court of the county within a period of ten (10) days.” (Tennessee Code Annotated §27-5-108).
Now what about Circuit Courts and Chancery Courts. “The chancery court has concurrent jurisdiction, with the circuit court, of all civil causes of action, triable in the circuit court, except for unliquidated damages for injuries to person or character, and except for unliquidated damages for injuries to property not resulting from a breach of oral or written contract.” (Tennessee Code Annotated §27-5-108). Now, “The chancery court has exclusive original jurisdiction of all cases of an equitable nature, where the debt or demand exceeds fifty dollars ($50.00), unless otherwise provided by this code. It has no jurisdiction of any debt or demand of less value than fifty dollars ($50.00), unless otherwise specifically provided.” (Tennessee Code Annotated §16-11-103). The question is why not file your collection lawsuit here…. Because then the Tennessee Rules of Civil procedure apply and way more work goes into it. Plus, “[e]ither party to a suit in chancery is entitled, upon application, to a jury to try and determine any material fact in dispute, save in cases involving complicated accounting, as to such accounting and those elsewhere excepted by law or by this code, and all the issues of fact in any proper cases, shall be submitted to one (1) jury.” (Tennessee Code Annotated §21-1-103).
The Circuit Court is like a catch all. “The circuit court is a court of general jurisdiction, and the judge of the circuit court shall administer right and justice according to law, in all cases where the jurisdiction is not conferred upon another tribunal.” (Tennessee Code Annotated §16-10-101).
Alright, so what does all this mean, if your case is seeking twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) or less you will almost certainly be in General Sessions Court with the right to appeal to the Circuit Court. If your case is over twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) you will almost certainly be in Chancery Court. You get to Circuit Court of you appeal from a General Sessions ruling.
How will you know what court you are in. The summons will tell you.
Lawsuits are tricky and require a lawyer if success is at all a concern. Contact our office right away if you are sued in any Court in Tennessee. We can help.