The Appeals Process for Evictions in North Carolina
Part 1: An Overview
By Pat Finn
Most evictions start out in Small Claims Court in North Carolina, where Magistrates preside over the trials. If either party is not satisfied with the Magistrate’s Judgment, they can appeal in the matter to District Court. This blog post is meant to give a general overview of that process, with future blog posts dedicated to a more detailed analysis of each aspect of the appeal.
When an appeal is filed from Magistrate Court it is for what is called a trial de novo in District Court. First off — what does “trial de novo” mean? The short version is that it is a legal phrase that stands for “new trial.” What that means is that everything starts fresh in District Court, where District Court Judges preside over the trials, and it will be as if the Small Claims trial never happened. While you may be able to impeach a witness for changing their testimony under oath, District Court Judges are not bound by any evidence, arguments, or judgments that occurred in Small Claims. You will need to prepare new documents and photographs if you intend on submitting them as evidence in District Court. Nothing that was handed up to a Magistrate will be provided to the District Court Judge, unless you present the evidence at the District Court trial.
Each county in North Carolina handles the appeal timeline somewhat differently. In some of the larger counties we are seeing a 6 month gap between the Small Claims Judgment and the first court date in District Court. On the flip side, some counties process the appeals and bring the cases to District Court in a matter of weeks (in 30 days or less). In all cases, the parties to the lawsuit will be provided with a Notice of Hearing that will outline the details for the District Court dates. Those details will include whether the District Court hearing will be virtual or in-person, as well as if there is a specific day for calendar call.
Calendar call is the date when the District Court Judge goes through the entire docket to determine what has/hasn’t been resolved as well as to set the day and time for the actual trial. A District Court trial term can range from a single day of trials to 2 weeks of trials. You can find the court docket for each North Carolina county on the NC Courts website – https://www.nccourts.gov/locations – and then find the section for that county that says, “Civil Calendars.” The dockets are then broken down by the date and courtroom. If you are unsure about the local rules for your county regarding calendar calls or trials, make sure to consult with an attorney.