The Delaware Judiciary is composed of the Supreme Court, the Court of Chancery, the Superior Court, the Family Court, the Court of Common Pleas, the Justice of the Peace Court, and related judicial agencies.
In terms of interrelationships among the courts, the Delaware Court system is similar to a pyramid. The Justice of the Peace Court represents the base of the pyramid and the Supreme Court the apex of the pyramid. As a litigant goes upward through the court system pyramid, the legal issues generally become more complex and, thus, more costly to litigate.
The Judicial Branch is a co-equal, independent branch of government entrusted with the fair, just and efficient resolution of disputes under the rules of law and equity, and with the protection of all rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitutions of the State of Delaware and the United States.
The Justice of the Peace Court, the initial entry level into the court system for most citizens, has jurisdiction over civil cases in which the disputed amount is less than $25,000. In criminal cases, the Justice of the Peace Court hears certain misdemeanors and most motor vehicle cases (excluding felonies) and the Justices of the Peace may act as committing magistrates for all crimes. All permissible appeals are to the Court of Common Pleas, with the exception of findings of juvenile delinquency for contempt of court related to truancy proceedings which may be appealed to Family Court. The Justice of the Peace Court is authorized by the Constitution of Delaware, Article IV, Section 1.
The Court of Common Pleas has jurisdiction in civil cases where the amount in controversy, exclusive of interest, does not exceed $75,000 (as of October 21, 2019). In criminal cases, the Court of Common Pleas handles all misdemeanors occurring in the State except certain drug-related offenses and traffic offenses. Appeals may be taken to the Superior Court. The Court is also responsible for all preliminary hearings in felony cases. The statewide Court of Common Pleas was created by Title 10, Chapter 13 of the Delaware Code, effective July 5, 1973. By Act of the General Assembly on April 26, 2005, the Court of Common Pleas became a Constitutional Court, pursuant to Article IV, Section 7B of the Delaware Constitution.
The Family Court has extensive jurisdiction over virtually all family and juvenile matters. All civil appeals, including those relating to juvenile delinquency, go directly to the Supreme Court while criminal cases are appealed to the Superior Court. The Constitution of Delaware, Article IV, Section 1, authorizes the Family Court.
The Superior Court, the State's court of general jurisdiction, has original jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases except equity cases. The Court has exclusive jurisdiction over felonies and almost all drug offenses. In civil matters, the Court's authority to award damages is not subject to a monetary maximum. The Superior Court also serves as an intermediate appellate court by hearing appeals on the record from the Court of Common Pleas, the Family Court (in criminal cases), and a number of administrative agencies. Appeals from the Superior Court may be taken to the Supreme Court.
The Court of Chancery has jurisdiction to hear all matters relating to equity. The litigation in this tribunal deals largely with corporate issues, trusts, estates, other fiduciary matters, disputes involving the purchase of land and questions of title to real estate as well as commercial and contractual matters. The Court of Chancery has a national reputation in the business community and is responsible for developing the case law in Delaware on corporate matters. Appeals from the Court of Chancery may be taken to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is the State's appellate court which receives direct appeals from the Court of Chancery, the Superior Court, and the Family Court. As administrative head of the courts, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in consultation with the other justices, sets administrative policy for the court system. The Supreme Court is created by the Constitution of Delaware, Article IV, Section 1. The Supreme Court sits in Dover but the justices maintain their chambers in the counties where they reside.
Administrative Office of the Courts
The Administrative Office of the Courts, including the Judicial Information Center and the Office of the State Court Collections Enforcement, provides those centralized services to the Delaware judiciary which are consistent with the statewide policies and goals for judicial administration and support operations as established by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Arms of the Supreme Court
The Board of Bar Examiners has the duties and powers set forth in Supreme Court Rule 51. The Board considers written applications for admission and the results of the examinations for admissions to the Delaware State Bar.
Commission on Continuing Legal Education: Minimum Continuing Legal Education requirements for members of the Delaware Bar were established by the Supreme Court to ensure that attorneys and members of the judiciary maintain their professional competence. The Commission on Continuing Legal Education administers this rule by approving courses and activities and monitoring compliance with the mandate.
The Lawyer's Fund for Client Protection (LFCP) is a fund created by the Delaware Supreme Court to provide monetary relief to clients who have suffered financial losses as a result of the dishonest conduct of lawyers. While acts of attorney dishonesty are the exceptions and not the rule, the Fund was established to show the good faith of all the members of the Delaware Bar.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) assists the Court in regulating the practice of law. In this capacity, the ODC is charged with evaluating, investigating, and, if warranted, prosecuting lawyer misconduct.
Agencies of the Court
Other agencies associated with the Delaware Judiciary include the state funded agencies: Child Death Review Commission, Delaware Nursing Home Residents Quality Assurance Commission, Office of the Child Advocate Law Libraries, and Public Guardian. The majority of the components of the Delaware judicial system are funded by the State. Exceptions to this are the Registers of Wills for the Court of Chancery and the Sheriff's Offices. Find more information about these agencies.