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What are the Differences Between Circuit Court and General District Court in Virginia?


The first two levels of the Virginia civil court system are General District Courts (GDC) and Circuit Courts. The type of claim, and amount of money at issue determines which court your matter will be heard in.

GDC generally hears cases involving landlord-tenant issues, actions to recover personal property, and other civil matters that do not exceed $25,000. Circuit Court generally will hear more complex cases that involve higher dollar amounts or equitable relief such as an injunction. The GDC does not have juries, while the Circuit Court does. There are certain exceptions such as unlawful detainers or personal injury cases that allow GDC to hear cases involving amounts over $25,000. 

Once a case is determined to fall within the jurisdiction (purview) of the GDC or Circuit Court, there are certain procedures for each court. The key differences are highlighted below:


  • GDC cases begin with a party (plaintiff) filling out a particular form (warrant in debt, unlawful detainer, etc.) for the type of case and serving it upon an adverse party (the defendant)
  • The first hearing is called the “first return” date and the Court determines whether the parties are disputing the claims.  If so, a trial date is set for a later time. 
  • During the first return, either party may request a written bill of particulars and grounds of defense.  We always recommend requesting these pleadings.  If requested, the Court will set a deadline for their due date during the first return. 
  • There is NO formal discovery in GDC.  However, the parties may utilize subpoenas to obtain records. 
  • Typically, the entire process takes between 3 and 6 months (or quicker for landlord/tenant matters). 

Circuit Court

  • The Circuit Court process begins with a filed complaint or petition, which is a document that details the relevant facts and issues about the plaintiff’s claim.
  • The adverse party (defendant) then has 21 days after service to respond to that initial complaint – this can be in the form of an “Answer” or another responsive pleading such as a demurrer or plea in bar. 
  • Circuit Court allows formal discovery such as interrogatories, request for production of documents, and depositions. 
  • The process can take well over a year depending upon the Court’s schedule and available trial dates. 

Both GDC and Circuit Court have concurrent jurisdiction for claims between $4,500 and $25,000 (or up to $50,000 for personal injury and wrongful death). 

Jurisdiction between Circuit Court and GDC is very complex and varies depending upon the type of claim.  A full list of jurisdictional requirements for Circuit Court can be found in Virginia Code § 17.1-513.  The jurisdictional requirements for GDC are found in Virginia Code § 16.1-77.

Do you have a potential civil matter that needs to go to court? If so, we are here to help! Our attorneys handle litigation in the following areas:

  • Business & Corporate
  • Shareholder and Ownership Disputes
  • Breach of Contract
  • Land Use & Zoning
  • Real Estate Disputes
  • Property Ownership
  • Fraud & Conversion

Whether you are an individual or looking for litigation assistance for your business, our team will help you file in the correct place, and advocate for your best resolution. Give us a call today!