In September, the Utah Supreme Court initiated an online dispute resolution (“ODR”) pilot program. The pilot program, which is housed at Utah’s West Valley City Justice Court, handles the court’s small claims cases. In its standing order announcing the program, the Utah Supreme Court says it believes that the new pilot program “will increase the participation rate of parties, assist the parties in resolving their disputes, and improve the quality and presentation of evidence at trial in those matters that cannot be resolved.”
Under the new program, plaintiffs must now either register for the court’s new ODR system within seven days of filing their claim or file a request for exemption from ODR. After being served with a claim, defendants will have fourteen days to either register for an ODR account or seek an exemption from participating in ODR. Parties will only be excused from participating in the ODR program for undue hardships. The court notes that undue hardships exist when parties are unable to access the online system without substantial difficulty or expense.
Parties utilizing the ODR system will work with a facilitator who will guide the parties through the ODR process and assist them in reaching a settlement. Facilitators will inform the parties of the process to be followed, the types of communications that parties may use, and establish timelines for the parties. Additionally, facilitators may request that the parties provide information and evidence about the merits of the case, their ability to pay, responses to the other party’s information, and their position on any proposed resolution of the plaintiff’s claim. Facilitators are also able to communicate privately with any party, at any time, for the purposes of facilitating a resolution.
Should the parties reach a settlement, they then may request their facilitator to prepare their online settlement agreement form, which will detail the terms of their agreement. Once completed, the court will enter the judgement. In the event that the parties are unable to reach a settlement, the facilitator will notify the court and the court will schedule a trial date for the parties. More information about the pilot program, including access to the court’s forms, may be found here.