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Civil Law Cases in the State of Utah

Interviewer: What falls within the rubric of civil law?

Civil Law Cases in UtahRobert Cummings: Basically any case between two private parties – as compared to the government versus an individual – constitutes civil law. Now, there are cases where the government can be a party in a civil case, but the general civil case is one private party against another private party.

To put it another way, you can understand civil law by understanding how criminal law differs from civil law. Essentially, in litigation, you have two broad categories of cases. You have criminal law where the government is the plaintiff. The government is bringing charges against the citizen, who is the defendant. The sanctions or punishments that a person faces run the gamut from fines and penalties for violations up to life in prison, if not death in some jurisdictions. So, the penalties that the state can oppose as plaintiff are high.

On the other hand, civil caw Cases usually consist of one Private Party Bringing a Lawsuit against another Private Party for a Variety of Potential Claims. On the flipside, you have what I would refer to as civil law, which is where you have a private party bringing a lawsuit against another private party for a myriad of claims, either breach of contract; a tort, which is basically a personal harm caused by one person against another; or other types of actions. You also can have government civil actions where if the government brings a lawsuit on behalf of either the state, the county, the city, or the nation, but where they don’t have the authority to go after a person’s liberty, i.e. put them in jail. So, for example, the State Consumer Protection Agency can sue a company, and go after damages, and seek to what’s called enjoin or prevent the company from engaging in certain conduct. But, they can’t go after criminal sanctions. So, that’s basically civil law.

Now, what falls under the civil umbrella would include, for example: family law; administrative actions, which is when the government brings an action against a private party in a civil forum; or party against party actions.

There is also one other defining aspect of the two camps. On the criminal side, there is a set of rules that govern procedure in criminal case: the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure for state court, and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure for federal court. These rules control how attorneys navigate the court process on behalf of their clients, including but not limited to: what evidence can come in; how it comes in; what discovery is allowed, meaning what evidence you can get from the other side; among other things.

On the other hand, for the civil cases, we operate under what are called the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure or the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, depending on if you are in state or federal court. Those have similar guidelines, but markedly different on how you operate in civil courts.

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