In civil litigation, an adjournment is the act of postponing proceedings in a court matter for a period of time. The court has the authority to postpone cases until a certain date, for a specified time frame or even indefinitely, as it feels necessary. Either party to a matter can request an adjournment, as well, although the court has no obligation to grant the request.
There are various reasons why the court may adjourn a small claims case, including things such as scheduling conflicts or unforeseen emergencies. The more urgent the reason for requesting an adjournment, the more likely the court is to grant one.
Perhaps the most common reason for adjourning a small claims case is a party's need for additional time to prepare. If either party requires more time for discovery, for example, the judge may adjourn the next hearing and extend the discovery time line. The requesting party typically must show a valid reason for needing extra time, such as the recent discovery of new evidence, and prove that it would be unreasonable to expect him to be prepared by the original hearing date due to these exigent circumstances.
Conflicts in the court's or the parties' schedules are also common reasons for adjourning a case. The conflict must be considerable to some degree -- such as an appointment for a necessary medical treatment -- for a judge to grant an adjournment for one party's schedule. The court may also adjourn a hearing when another matter runs longer than expected, an emergency matter interrupts the scheduled hearing or the adjudicating judge is otherwise unavailable.
In some legal matters, there are multiple pending cases against one respondent, sometimes addressing a similar matter. When this happens, the court may adjourn any lower-level proceedings until there is a ruling in the higher-level case. This is particularly true when both a civil and a criminal case for the same matter impend against one defendant. This allows the court to consider the rulings of the higher-level proceedings when adjudicating the lower-level case.
Most courts will adjourn small claims cases when either party experiences an unforeseen emergency. This includes events such as a car accident on the way to the hearing, an illness or a family emergency. The affected party should contact the court as soon as possible to request the adjournment; otherwise, the judge may continue the matter in the party's absence.
Adjournment Sine Die
An adjournment sine die (literally, "adjournment without a day") is a "permanent" adjournment of a civil matter. It is not a dismissal, but a stay, which allows the claimant to refile the matter in the future.
Reasons for an adjournment sine die are few, and typically occur only when the claimant filed the wrong action or the wrong procedure for the appropriate action, effectively voiding the matter. By adjourning instead of dismissing, the claimant is free to file a claim for the correct action and proceed with litigation.