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Appealing a case from Magistrate Court

by merlin on July 5th, 2011
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Under Georgia law, the only way that a decision from magistrate court can be appealed is according to the procedure set out in O.C.G.A. § 15-10-41, which states in subsection (a) that “[t]here shall be no jury trials in the magistrate court”, but goes on to describe the manner for an appeal from a judgment of magistrate court in the subsequent sections, stating at (b)(1) that “appeals may be had from judgments returned in the magistrate court to the state court of the county or to the superior court of the county and the same provisions now provided for by general law for appeals contained in Article 2 of Chapter 3 of Title 5 shall be applicable to appeals from the magistrate court, the same to be a de novo appeal. The provisions of said Article 2 of Chapter 3 of Title 5 shall also apply to appeals to state court” (emphasis supplied).

Though I had read it on its own independently from the cases that have interpreted the Code section, I did not believe that it was meant to be taken independently, so I dug a little deeper.  Subsection (b)(2) states that “[n]o appeal shall lie from a default judgment or from a dismissal for want of prosecution after a nonappearance of a plaintiff for trial.”

The subsection goes on to state that “[a]ny voluntary dismissal by the plaintiff or by order of the court for want of prosecution shall be without prejudice except that the filing of a second such dismissal shall operate as an adjudication upon the merits. Review, including review of a denial of a postjudgment motion to vacate a judgment, shall be by certiorari to the state court of that county or to the superior court of that county” (emphasis supplied).

According to the cases interpreting and elaborating on this section – and according to basic common sense, as the situation in which abuse of litigation might be had by an unscrupulous magistrate, and the unjust actions of a favored litigant might be supreme without any review by a higher court – a default judgment in magistrate court actually can be reviewed by a higher court, if a petition for certiorari is filed, and the state or superior court of the County decides that an error of law or fact prevails.  The case would then be heard in the Court above as a de novo appeal.   Of course, there must be a reasonable and noticeable, material issue that enables the Court above to grant the writ of certiorari.  However, the important thing that this Code section provides is the proper methodology for appealing a judgment from magistrate court.  The propriety of the writ of certiorari filed depends on the case.

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