Most states now have a system of courts designed to handle the civil matters encountered by individuals and small businesses on a regular basis such as suits on account, landlord tenant actions and disputes about warranties. Most states have courts called small claims courts, magistrate courts, or justice or the peace courts. Regardless of the name, each limited jurisdiction court usually functions like the Georgia Magistrate Court. Until about 1960, the justice of the peace courts in Georgia were the only courts available for pursing a small claim. Justice of the peace courts were not useful because, with rare exception, their jurisdiction was generally limited to $200.00 per case.
The first Georgia small claims court was created around 1960. Small claims court were created on a county by county basis by local legislation. They were created in addition to existing justice of the peace courts. Small claims courts duplicated and exceeded justice court jurisdiction in many ways. The creation of small claims courts on a county by county basis was not the long-term answer. Since each small claims court was created by local legislation for a particular county, the jurisdiction varied from county to county. Each court could have varying jurisdiction. As a practical matter, determining the jurisdiction of any particular court was a chore, at best. Jurisdiction was determined by reviewing local law found in the general session law for the year in which the court was created. The use of the small claims courts by anyone but local citizens familiar with the court was not practical. There was a significant diversity in costs and limits of jurisdiction. For example, some small claims courts had jurisdictional limits of $1000 while others had limits of $5000, with many in between. (The limit now is $15,000) There was room for improvement in both the number of limited jurisdiction courts and the ease of their use.
The Georgia Magistrate Court system was established by an Act of the 1983 Georgia Legislature with an effective date of July 1st, 1983. The enabling legislation that implemented the court came in response to the adoption of a new Georgia constitution in 1982 that created a uniform system of courts. With the implementation of the Magistrate Court system, all small claims courts and justice of the peace courts in Georgia were abolished and their judges became magistrates.