Louisiana's court structure is not complicated. At the appellate level, it consists of a Supreme Court and five intermediate appellate courts. At the trial level, it consists of courts of general, special and limited jurisdiction.
The state's highest court, the Supreme Court, devotes much of its time to considering applications for writs to the lower courts. Most of the state's civil and criminal appellate caseload is heard by the five circuit courts of appeal - Louisiana's intermediate appellate courts.
At the trial level, the court of general jurisdiction is the district court, which, with some exceptions, has unrestricted trial court jurisdiction within its basic geographical limit, the parish. (In Orleans Parish, the district court is divided into civil and criminal district courts, which function separately.) Courts of special jurisdiction include four juvenile courts and the family court of East Baton Rouge Parish. In the areas where they exist, they have exclusive original jurisdiction over certain types of cases pertaining to juveniles and adoption, and in the family court, divorce as well. The principal trial courts of limited jurisdiction in Louisiana are the city courts. There are 46 city courts outside Orleans Parish; their jurisdiction in civil cases, concurrent with that of the district courts, ranges from $5,000 to $25,000. Their criminal jurisdiction is basically limited to misdemeanors, but they have concurrent jurisdiction with the district courts in juvenile cases where separate juvenile courts do not exist.
In Orleans Parish, the limited jurisdiction courts are divided into separate courts similar to the civil and criminal district courts. The first and second city courts handle civil cases, and the municipal court handles criminal cases, with the exception of traffic violations, which are handled by a separate traffic court.
The parish court, a relatively new limited jurisdiction court, began operation in Jefferson Parish in l964. In l966 an additional parish court was created in Jefferson Parish, and in l976 the Parish Court for the Parish of Ascension was created. Essentially they are similar in jurisdiction to city courts outside Orleans Parish. Between them, the First and Second Parish Courts for the Parish of Jefferson have parishwide jurisdiction, one on the East Bank of the Mississippi and the other on the West Bank. The Parish Court of Ascension Parish has parishwide jurisdiction.
Other courts of limited jurisdiction in Louisiana are justice of the peace courts, which have no criminal jurisdiction and civil jurisdiction concurrent with district courts up to $2,000. There are also small claims courts (which have been established as a division in some city courts) with civil jurisdiction up to $3,000. Finally, many small towns and villages have established mayor's courts. These courts have jurisdiction over violations of municipal ordinances.
In the paragraphs which follow, the jurisdiction of these various levels of the Louisiana judicial system is indicated more precisely.
Louisiana Supreme Court
. The Supreme Court is composed of seven justices elected from six districts throughout Louisiana for 10-year terms, and one assigned justice. The senior justice in point of service is the chief justice, who is the principal administrative officer of the judicial system. The chief justice discharges his administrative responsibility through the judicial administrator.
. The Supreme Court has general supervisory jurisdiction over all lower courts. It may establish procedural and administrative rules not in conflict with law and may assign a sitting or retired judge to any court. The Supreme Court has sole authority to provide by rule for appointments of attorneys as temporary or ad hoc judges of city, municipal, traffic, parish, juvenile or family courts. It considers applications for writs to review individual cases, and in addition, has criminal and other appellate jurisdiction.
. The court has immediate appellate jurisdiction of cases in which a law or ordinance has been declared unconstitutional and in capital cases where the death penalty has been imposed. The court also "has appellate jurisdiction over all issues involved in a civil action properly before it."
. The Supreme Court has exclusive original jurisdiction of disciplinary proceedings against lawyers, recommendations of the judiciary commission for discipline of judges and fact questions affecting its own appellate jurisdiction.
Courts of Appeal
. The work of the intermediate appellate courts is divided among five courts of appeal, domiciled in Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Lake Charles, New Orleans and Gretna. The 1st Circuit (Baton Rouge) has 13 judges, the 2nd Circuit (Shreveport) has nine, the 3rd Circuit (Lake Charles) has 12, the 4th Circuit (New Orleans) has 12, and the 5th Circuit (Gretna) has eight. Judges are elected from districts or at large within their circuits for 10year terms; the senior judge on each circuit court in point of service is the chief judge and administers the court subject to rules adopted by it.
. The supervisory jurisdiction of each circuit court of appeal extends to all cases arising within its circuit, subject to the general supervisory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
. Each court of appeal has appellate jurisdiction over all civil matters, all matters appealed from family and juvenile courts, and all criminal cases triable by a jury which arise within its circuit, except for those cases appealable directly to the Supreme Court or to the district courts. As a practical matter, this means that the courts of appeal hear most of the civil and criminal appeals in Louisiana.
. The district court is Louisiana's trial court of general jurisdiction. There are 40 judicial districts in Louisiana, containing from one to three parishes each, as well as a district comprising Orleans Parish. There is a district court domiciled at the parish seat of each of the 63 parishes outside of Orleans Parish. For example, in districts comprised of more than one parish, each parish has a separate court with its own clerk and separate docket but served by the judge or judges for the judicial district. In the 40 districts outside of Orleans, there are 170 district judges elected to six-year terms. In Orleans, the district court is divided into civil and criminal district courts. The civil district court has 14 judges, and the criminal district court has 10 judges and one magistrate judge, each elected to terms of six years.
. In general, district courts have jurisdiction over all matters within their territorial limits. Exceptions occur in Orleans, and in the 1st, 19th, and 24th judicial districts, where family and juvenile courts have exclusive jurisdiction over certain types of cases. Further, in Orleans Parish, violations of municipal ordinances are tried by the municipal and traffic courts. In civil cases, concurrent jurisdiction of district courts would extend up to $2,000 in wards where justices of the peace are in operation, and from $5,000 to $25,000 when their territorial jurisdiction is concurrent with that of a city court. City courts also exercise concurrent jurisdiction with the district courts over misdemeanors and over juvenile cases where there is no separate juvenile court.
. The district courts generally have appellate jurisdiction of criminal cases tried by city, municipal, traffic, and mayor's courts. Exceptions to this rule are those cases in city, parish and municipal courts tried under a state statute, in which case the matter is appealed to the appropriate court of appeal. District courts also have appellate jurisdiction over justice of the peace courts in parishes where no parish court exists.
Supervisory Jurisdiction. Orleans Parish Criminal District Court has general supervisory jurisdiction over the municipal and traffic courts.
Family and Juvenile Courts
. The family court of the parish of East Baton Rouge and the juvenile courts of Orleans, East Baton Rouge, Caddo and Jefferson Parishes are courts of special jurisdiction having exclusive original jurisdiction over certain types of cases, which in other districts in Louisiana are handled by district courts or district, parish and city courts concurrently. Judges of the juvenile courts and family court possess the same qualifications and serve the same term as district judges, except in Orleans Parish, where the term for a juvenile court judge is eight years rather than six years.
. The juvenile courts have exclusive original jurisdiction over a variety of different types of proceedings involving children, including delinquency proceedings involving persons under the age of 21 who commit delinquent acts before attaining 17 years of age. Notable exceptions to the exclusive jurisdictional grant include those instances where children who have reached the age of 15 are charged with first degree murder, second degree murder, aggravated rape or aggravated kidnapping. In these instances, jurisdiction is transferred to the appropriate court exercising criminal jurisdiction over the charged offenses.
Juvenile courts also have original jurisdiction of all adoption proceedings involving unemancipated children under 17 years of age. The Family Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge has exclusive jurisdiction of actions for divorce, annulment of marriage, establishment and disavowal of the paternity of children, spousal and child support, and custody and visitation of children.
In l962, the First Parish Court for the Parish of Jefferson was created. Its territorial jurisdiction is composed of all that territory in the parish lying east of the Mississippi River. Second Parish Court for the Parish of Jefferson, created in l966, maintains territorial jurisdiction of all of that territory in the parish lying west of the Mississippi River. The Parish Court of Ascension Parish has territorial jurisdiction throughout Ascension Parish.
The jurisdiction of parish courts is similar to that of city courts. See, generally, the Uniform Parish Court Jurisdiction and Procedure Act codified at R.S. 13:1441 et seq. Parish courts have original jurisdiction concurrent with the district court over criminal offenses punishable by a $1,000 fine or less, imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both. The civil jurisdiction of parish courts generally is concurrent with district courts in cases up to $20,000. Parish courts do not have jurisdiction over matters involving claims for divorce, annulment of marriage, alimony and separation of property; cases in which the state, parish, municipal or other political subdivision is a defendant; claims of title to real estate; election contests; cases in which the plaintiff asserts civil or political rights under the federal or state constitutions; succession, interdiction, receivership, liquidation, habeas corpus and quo warranto proceedings; or, in the case of the parish courts of Jefferson, juvenile cases. Appeals from cases tried by the parish court are to the courts of appeal.
. At the present time, 46 city courts, outside of Orleans Parish, exist in Louisiana. Fifty-six judges preside in these courts. City court judges are elected for six-year terms and have the same qualifications as district judges.
In Orleans Parish, the court is divided into the first and second city courts, which exercise civil jurisdiction; a municipal court, which handles only misdemeanor cases except for traffic; and the traffic court itself. There are four judges on the city courts, four on the municipal court, and four on the traffic court.
. City courts have jurisdiction over the following: (a) criminal offenses not punishable at hard labor, including violations of parish and city ordinances, state DWI cases, peace bonds and preliminary examinations in non-capital cases; and (b) civil cases when the amount in dispute, or the value of the property involved, ranges from $5,000 to $20,000, except for those matters in which parish courts have no jurisdiction, and also except for tutorship, curatorship, emancipation and partition proceedings. City courts also exercise juvenile jurisdiction, except where separate juvenile courts with exclusive original juvenile jurisdiction have been established.
The municipal court has exclusive original jurisdiction over violations of municipal ordinances, excluding traffic. The traffic court has exclusive original jurisdiction over violations of municipal traffic ordinances.
R.S. l3:5200, et seq., authorizes the establishment of small claims divisions in the city courts. Claims not exceeding $3,000 may be filed in such divisions. Procedures thereafter are simplified, as technical rules of evidence are relaxed.
Justices of the Peace
. Justices of the peace have been abolished in wards where city courts exist. Nevertheless, there are some 390 justices of the peace in Louisiana.
. Justices of the peace have no criminal jurisdiction, except as committing magistrates and for the issuance of peace bonds. They have original civil jurisdiction concurrent with the district courts in cases up to $2,000. However, justices of the peace do not have authority to hear proceedings such as suits involving title to real estate, the right to public office, divorce proceedings, suits against public bodies and executory proceedings. Their concurrent jurisdiction extends to the following proceedings:
- suits for the possession or ownership of movable property not exceeding $2,000;
- suits by landowners or lessors for the eviction of occupants or tenants of leased commercial premises and farmlands where the amount of the monthly rental does not exceed $2,000, regardless of the amount of the rent due or the rent for the unexpired term of the lease; and
- suits by landowners or lessors for the eviction of occupants or tenants of leased residential premises, regardless of the amount of rent due or the rent for the unexpired term of the lease.
R.S. 33:44l and 442 provide that except where city courts are established, in municipalities under the mayor and board of aldermen form of government, mayors and appointed magistrates are granted jurisdiction to try violations of municipal ordinances. Recent legislation gave these courts the power of imposing imprisonment and also the power of a committing magistrate. There are approximately 250 mayor's courts in operation in towns and villages throughout Louisiana.