Commonwealth Constitution Small Claims

The Commonwealth Constitution assigns general appellate jurisdiction solely to the Supreme Court. ("The Commonwealth supreme court shall hear appeals from final judgments and orders of the Commonwealth superior court." NMI Const, art. IV, § 3.). However, Rule 83 of the Commonwealth Rules of Civil Procedure establishes an inferior small claims court within the trial court.

The Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules of Evidence are different in small claims matters, so while a trial court judge will hear small claims cases, the judge will sit in a different capacity than in regular trial court cases. Therefore, Rule 83(i), which governs appeals, does not subject the small claims court to the usual appellate process of the Supreme Court.

The public policy rationale for small claims court differentiates it from the rest of the judiciary. the Commonwealth Rules of Civil Procedure state that the rationale behind the small claims procedure is "to enable small claims to be justly decided and fully disposed of with less formality, paperwork, and expenditure of time than is required by the ordinary procedure for larger claims." NMI R. Civ. P. 83(b).

to require claimants to file an appeal with the Supreme Court for these matters would require a substantial record, far more than what is required for small claims matters.

A small claims court record consists solely of a "small claims docket card for each case.

The entries on the docket card shall ordinarily constitute the entire record and no further information need be recorded or kept." Id. Furthermore, the trial court will determine if the appeal for a new trial is "frivolous or for the purpose of delay," a finding that is both inappropriate and onerous for the Supreme Court to determine. NMI R. Civ. P. 83(i).

Petitioner also asserts that this Court reads Rule 83(i) incorrectly by interpreting "may appeal the judgment" to mean that the only avenue for appellate relief is through the trial court. Petitioner reads "may" as leaving open another avenue for appeal, namely, this Court.

The word "may" modifies the word "appeal," in that it gives parties the option to appeal. Rule 83(i) then lists the method of appeal, specifically a new trial with the trial court. the word "may" does not give appellant options as to where to appeal; it only details the proper method if the appellant chooses to appeal