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PREREQUISITES FOR THE USE OF COURTS IN DISPUTE RESOLUTION

Courts provide a forum for the settlement of a variety of private and public disputes. The courts are considered a neutral and impartial place for dispute processing. Individuals and organizations that want to use the courts for dispute processing must meet certain legal requirements. At the minimum, plaintiffs must be able to demonstrate justiciability and standing (Hessick, 2015).

Justiciability means that the conflict is in fact a legal issue for which potential court involvement is appropriate. In the United States, most disputes are justiciable in one court or another, although the jurisdiction of particular courts varies. For example, federal courts are not permitted to grant divorces or adoptions or to probate wills. Various state courts exist for these and most other cases excluded from the federal judiciary. The potential litigant must turn the grievance into a legal dispute and must determine, with or without the aid of an attorney, whether the complaint is justiciable. Essentially, justiciability refers to real and substantial controversy that is appropriate for judicial determination, as differentiated from disputes or differences of a hypothetical or an abstract character.

Standing is a more severe limitation to litigation than justiciability. The theory behind standing is that individuals should be able to bring lawsuits only if their personal legal rights have been violated. For example, a taxpayer may not sue the government to prevent the expenditure of funds for an objectionable purpose because the ordinary taxpayer’s stake in the expenditure is minimal. Someone who disapproves what the CIA is doing is supposed to take it up with Congress, not with the courts. Similarly, parents cannot sue for their grown daughter or son to be divorced: Such proceedings must be initiated by one of the spouses to the marriage.

Justiciability and standing are not the only limitations to the use of courts in disputes. There is also the old legal axiom de minimis non curat lex: The law will not concern itself with trifles. Trivial matters may not be litigated. For example, a court may refuse to hear a suit involving a very small sum of money. Moreover, although untold numbers of disputes arise over which the courts have clear jurisdiction and someone has standing to sue, a potential plaintiff may simply decide not to sue. If the plaintiff does threaten to sue, the potential defendant may then prefer to settle out of court. Economic resources for both plaintiffs and defendants are important in their decision to become involved in courtroom action. In general, plaintiffs are unlikely to use the courts unless they have sufficient funds to hire an attorney and bear the costs of litigation. The parties on either side of a dispute must also be able to afford the costs of delay, which occur when disputes are submitted to the courts. For example, automobile accident cases involving large sums of money do not reach the court dockets for several years in many large American cities. In the interim, the plaintiff has expenses. Often the cost of waiting must be calculated against the benefits of a quick settlement for only part of the claim. Obviously, for many people, economic resources play an important role in the use of court services and may be decisive in out-ofcourt settlements.

Socioeconomic status is also related to the use of the judiciary in disputes. People and groups that cannot afford a lawyer and the necessary court fees are less likely to litigate than those who have sufficient funds. Moreover, social status is related to the kind of court services that are used. In general, the poor are more likely to be defendants and recipients of court-ordered sanctions. Middle-class litigants are less likely to be subjected to court sanctions and more likely to benefit from the use of court services in their own behalf from the legitimization of their private agreements or from out-of-court negotiations.

 
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