Working with the District Court when in dispute

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ellen harbridge lawyer

Mrs. Jones owned a small office block in Massey. West IT Limited, a start up IT company rented the premises. A lease was negotiated for an eight-year term with West IT Limited’s sole director, Mr. McIntosh acting as a guarantor.

Two years into the lease term, Mrs. Jones noticed that the rent payments had stopped. She drove to the premises and found all traces of West IT Limited had vanished. She called Mr. McIntosh to find out what was going on. Mr. McIntosh revealed that West IT Limited had gone into liquidation and denied that he had any liabilities under the lease as a guarantor.

Mrs. Jones visited her lawyer who wrote demand letters to Mr. McIntosh. There was no response. She was told the next step to recover the money she was owed, was to issue proceedings in the District Court against Mr. McIntosh.

Mrs. Jones’s lawyer explained that court proceedings are inherently stressful. They are necessary however in certain situations to resolve a dispute and provide finality. Knowing the steps along the way to obtaining judgment would help her feel in control.

Can I make a claim in the District Court?

The District Court deals with civil claims for up to $200,000. Any claim smaller than $15,000 is normally heard by the Disputes Tribunal.

Any claim must be made within 6 years of the event the claim is based on. There are certain exceptions to this rule, so you should consult a lawyer if you're unsure over the eligibility of your claim.

On the 1st of July 2014, a new District Court process came into force for civil proceedings. Ongoing claims filed before the 1st of July are dealt with through a transitional process.

Step 1: Filing a Statement of Claim

A Statement of Claim sets out the claim against a defendant and what the plaintiff is seeking to satisfy the claim. This Statement of Claim must be filed in the District Court closest to the residence of the defendant and a filing fee must be paid.

Step 2: Filing an application for Summary Judgment

Summary Judgment is a ‘fast track’ procedure to obtaining judgment against a defendant. The Court must be satisfied that the defendant has no defence to the statement of claim or to a particular cause of action. The Summary Judgment application may be struck out by the Court if the defendant can prove there is a reasonably arguable defence to the claims.

An application for Summary Judgment can be filed at the same time as a Statement of Claim or 10 working days after a statement of defence has been served on the plaintiff. There is a filing fee.

Step 3: Statement of Defence Filed

A Statement of Defence sets out the defendant's defence(s) to the claims in the plaintiff’s Statement of Claim. A Statement of Defence must be filed within 25 working days of the defendant being served with the Statement of Claim.

Step 4: 1st Case Management Conference

The initial case management conference is timetabled by the Court and will be no less than 25 working days after the filing of a statement of defence. The agenda for the conference is to hear any interlocutory applications that have been filed and then to determine whether the matter should proceed to a judicial settlement conference or a short trial.

Step 5: Judicial Settlement Conference

A judicial settlement conference is held in chambers (not in full court) and a Judge leads a discussion between the parties in an attempt to reach settlement of the matter.

Step 6: 2nd Case Management Conference

The 2nd case management conference is fixed by the Registrar no later than 10 working days after the Judicial Settlement Conference. The purpose of the case management conference is to allocate the appropriate trial method.

Step 7: Trial Allocation

The types of trial that can be allocated:

- Short trial: Short one-day trials with strict time limits.

- Simplified Trial: Designed for cases with one or two issues. There are time limits and limits on the numbers of people who can give evidence.

- Full Trial: Suitable for cases with a number of complex issues. Full trials follow the same procedure as trials in the High Court.

Things you can do to assist your lawyer with District Court proceedings:

1) Make your lawyer aware of all of the facts involved in the dispute.

2) Provide all of the necessary documentation to your lawyer to look over in a timely fashion.

3) Inform your lawyer of your expectations and the end result you are seeking from the litigation.

For more information on Litigation, please contact Smith & Partners’ Litigation Law Specialist, Ellen Harbidge on 09 837 6890 or at ellen.harbidge@smithpartners.co.nz

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