The Basics of Magisterial Courts

Magisterial District Courts, or small claims courts as they are sometimes known, are the lowest tier of the Pennsylvania judicial system and the ones with which most people will interact. Despite their colloquial name, nothing about the magisterial court system is small or insignificant. Magisterial courts make up most of the courts in the Commonwealth and appear in every county, regardless of size or population. 

The reason most people call these courts “small claims” is because they are considered courts of limited jurisdiction. While they can hear both civil and criminal cases, they are limited in the types of cases they can hear. 

Civil Jurisdiction 

For civil cases, magisterial district courts cannot handle claims of more than $12,000. Some common types of civil disputes heard by a magisterial court are landlord-tenant disputes, violations of municipal ordinances, or breach of contract. These cases are decided by a judge, not a jury, and the results can be appealed by any dissatisfied parties to the next higher court – the Court of Common Pleas within 30 days of the decision. 

If you wish to sue someone for more than $12,000, you will have to bypass the magisterial courts altogether and submit your complaint to the Court of Common Pleas. 

Do I Need A Lawyer? 

The short answer is yes. Anytime you appear in court, you should have an attorney present. While many people choose to represent themselves to save on costs, the ins and outs of the legal system, evidentiary rules, and the way of the judicial process are complex and require a trained expert.  

While there is a cost with hiring a lawyer, you are paying for their expertise to fight for the outcome you want. The last thing you want in a civil claim is to lose on an improperly filed document, or a filing fee that never got paid. 

To ensure that your legal rights are protected, it is always better to consult a professional. Remember that courts are as much about the rules as they are about the facts of the situation. 

If you find yourself in need of representation before a magisterial district court, please contact Cameron P. Kockler at (724) 776-8000 or at 

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