Oregon’s Complex Litigation Court: Is It A Good Option For You?
By Shannon Raye Martinez
Saalfeld Griggs PC
The landscape of how the Oregon state courts function through case procedures has been shifting in the last year. The latest change is the creation of the “Oregon Complex Litigation Court” (OCLC). This article discusses what the OCLC is, how it is different from the previous system, and some potential benefits and pitfalls.
HOW DO OREGON COURTS WORK?
If you need to file a lawsuit in Oregon, you have the option of filing in either a Circuit Court located in one of the counties, or Small Claims Court. Currently, if the amount at issue in the lawsuit is more than $7,500, you of the parties are located, or where the dispute occurred.
While all Oregon Circuit Courts follow a similar set of rules, each county can also establish their own procedural rules and standards. Most counties have enacted their own rules, and cases are sometimes handled very differently between counties. For example, Marion County assigns a judge to handle a case from the start of the lawsuit through trial. Multnomah County, on the other hand, does not assign a judge. Instead, judges are assigned, depending on availability, to each motion, hearing or trial. It is not uncommon in Multnomah County to have a different judge at the various stages of a case.
With some exceptions, when a judge is assigned in a particular county, the judge is randomly assigned. Judges are not chosen for their expertise or because they have handled certain types of cases before. Judges with no experience or knowledge of corporate law may have to decide who wins a complex case involving stock sales and company mergers. Or, judges who previously practiced solely in employment law may resolve a marriage dissolution proceeding.
WHAT IS OREGON COMPLEX LITIGATION COURT?
OCLC is a program seeking to provide litigants with judges who have expertise in particular kinds of cases. The Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court has appointed three current Circuit Court Judges to a managing panel for the program. The panel will decide which judges will be accepted to the program, which judges will be assigned to particular cases, and generally oversee the program. Any current judge may submit a resume to the panel to be considered for OCLC. The resumes submitted are required to state, in detail, what the particular judge’s civil trial experience is, both on the bench and previously as a practicing attorney. The panel then reviews and evaluates the resumes, and decides which judges will be accepted to OCLC.
If you participate in OCLC as a litigant, you may have a specific judge assigned to your case that has had experience with the particular legal issues in your case or has heard the same type of case before. The judge will decide all issues in the case and who will prevail at trial. No cases are automatically transferred to OCLC. In order for litigants to participate in OCLC, a lawsuit must be commenced in the appropriate county. After the case is filed, the parties must file in Circuit Court. Typically, the lawsuit will be filed in the county where one or both may request that the case be transferred to a judge in OCLC. All parties to the case must consent to it. It is a voluntary program and cannot be forced on any of the parties. If you choose to participate in OCLC, you may be waiving your right to have a jury decide your case. As a result, the court cannot require you to participate and waive this constitutional right.
If the parties consent to OCLC, the current judge in the case will then meet with the parties and evaluate and decide whether your case merits transfer to OCLC. It is not automatically transferred to OCLC if the parties agree. In order to be transferred to OCLC, your case must qualify as a “complex” case. The court will evaluate aspects of a case to determine if it is complex, such as the complexity of the legal issues, complexity of the factual issues, length of the trial and issues with discovery (i.e., exchange of testimony and documents prior to trial).
If the judge determines that your case merits transfer to OCLC, the parties must have a case management conference with the judge no later than 30 days after the case has been transferred to discuss any issues in anticipation of trial, deadlines for various filings prior to trial, scheduling of a trial date and potential settlement of the case. In addition, the parties must exchange their exhibits no later than 10 days before trial. Lastly, the parties are required to confer and try to either settle the case or resolve some of the issues in the case before involving the judge.
The procedure of how the case is conducted once transferred to OCLC is very different than the current system in Oregon Circuit Courts. In a typical Circuit Court case, the parties are not required to have a case management conference or share exhibits prior to trial. Some counties, and some specific judges, set their own deadlines and requirements for trial which may include similar deadlines, but this is not always the case.
SHOULD YOU CONSIDER COMPLEX LITIGATION COURT?
There are potential advantages and disadvantages to OCLC depending on the type of case. The most important benefit to this program is the ability to have one judge assigned to your case with expertise regarding the issues or facts in your case. This could be beneficial for both sides of the case if the case is unique or very complex. Additionally, the parties have a streamlined timetable and procedure, which will likely result in an OCLC case being tried sooner than if the case remained in Circuit Court.However, keep in mind that you may be giving up the right to have a jury decide your case. There are multiple advantages and disadvantages to a jury trial that need to be evaluated on a case by case basis, depending on the parties involved, the equities on each side of the case, whether the legal issues are too complex and the position of the parties.
Some commentators to this program have voiced concern that the OCLC will adversely affect the cases in Circuit Court that are not transferred to this program. For example, if too many judges in one county participate in OCLC, this could reduce the amount of judges available for other cases, and delay handling of the general Circuit Court caseload.
The OCLC, however, could be beneficial and cost effective for all litigants involved in complex cases. Nonetheless, it is important to evaluate all of the circumstances of a case before deciding whether this program is suited for the particular issues in your case. If you have questions regarding this program or how our litigation team can help you evaluate whether the OCLC is right for your dispute, please contact us.