Small Business Entitled to Day in Court
Written by: Gene Backus
In Las Vegas, Nevada, small businesses have always been able to seek resolution of disputes in the District Court, County of Clark as long as their dispute involved damages likely to exceed Ten Thousand and 00/100 Dollars ($10,000.00) or more. For smaller disputes, and in particular, disputes under Seven-Thousand Five-Hundred and 00/100 Dollars ($7,500.00), small business have been required to bring such disputes in the Justice Court of the Las Vegas Township, County of Clark.
Being in Justice Court has commonly been a frustrating experience for many small businesses, especially when they are the ones being sued, since many small businesses often find that the judges have a tacit bias in favor of the plaintiff, especially when the plaintiff is not represented by counsel. This became fully evident by the fact that starting in 1999, the Las Vegas Township Justice Court adopted a policy allowing jury trials only when the plaintiff’s alleged special damages were Five Thousand and 00/100 Dollars ($5,000.00) or more. What this meant was that in smaller dollar cases in the Justice Court, the small business was not allowed to have a jury trial. This practice has now been overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court.
In Aftercare of Clark County v. Justice Court of Las Vegas Township, 82 P.3d 931 (2004), the Nevada Supreme Court struck down the Las Vegas Township Justice Court’s policy allowing jury trials only when the plaintiff’s alleged special damages were $5,000.00 or more. The Justice Court had reasoned that its policy was important because it would preserve judicial resources, but the Nevada Supreme Court held that this was not a sufficient factor to deny jury trials in matters even with values under $5,000.00.
The Nevada Supreme Court noted that the Nevada Constitution secures to all the right of trial by jury, and provides that the right shall remain inviolate forever. After reviewing the common law right to jury trial and its operation throughout Nevada history, the Nevada Supreme Court concluded that Nevada’s constitutional guaranty of trial by jury covers Justice Court civil actions, even when small amounts are in controversy.
However, the court did leave open the possibility that small claims actions, in certain cases, may not be entitled to jury trials, depending upon the facts, but in all, the Nevada Supreme Court’s opinion was a victory for small businesses, leveling the playing field for future cases involving small businesses, especially when they are defendants being sued by unrepresented individuals.
For more information regarding small businesses pursuing actions in the Las Vegas Justice Court, please contact Gene Backus.