Michigan circuit courts have two principal vehicles for alternative dispute resolution (ADR) — case evaluation and mediation. The former is evaluative, the latter facilitative. Case evaluators impose a settlement number on the parties; mediators help the parties select a number of their own. What process should come first?
Under MCR 2.410(A), all civil cases are “subject’ to alternative dispute resolution processes unless otherwise provided by statute or court rule. At any time, after “consultation” with the parties — whatever form that may take — the court may order a case into an appropriate ADR process. Case evaluation of tort cases is mandatory. MCR 2.403(A)(2). The practical import of these rules seems to mean that virtually all circuit courts submit all civil lawsuits to case evaluation, some circuit courts submit cases to mediation, and a few circuit courts do both. Unfortunately, neither court nor counsel appear to give enough thought to which ADR device should come first. Often the result by default is a case evaluation number that fails to quickly resolve the case but that one party becomes wedded to, further complicating settlement down the road.
As a litigant who thinks mediation appropriate for your case, how do you synchronize case evaluation with mediation in those jurisdictions which only use case evaluation or which put case evaluation first?
MCR 2.410(C)(1) requires the court to “consult” with the parties before selecting ADR unless you are litigating a tort case. Even there, the rule certainly permits the parties to request mediation from the court before case evaluation. If you have a choice of mediation, case evaluation, or both, ask for a pre-trial conference and choose mediation first. Letting case evaluation occur first is likely to anchor one of the parties at a settlement number making mediation more difficult.The court rules permit you to mediate almost any time and give you the chance at resolution early in the litigation process, and certainly before you subject yourself to a quick and dirty case evaluation number. Case evaluation typically occurs late in the litigation after the expense of full-blown discovery. Litigators have very little time to explore a case before the panel, and the quality of case evaluators varies widely. In mediation, you have the luxuries of time and mediator experience, whether you select a mediator of your own or rely on the court to pick a certified mediator from the court’s approved mediator roster. You can tailor discovery and investigation to the nature and scope of your mediation and design the mediation process too. In case evaluation, “one size fits all” (unless you enlist a privately-selected panel which usually then mediates anyway).
Most importantly, in mediation you control the process and the outcome. If mediation works as designed, you should avoid the need for case evaluation altogether.
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