In the small claims division of the district court you can bring a lawsuit against anyone who owes you money. You can sue a person or business that has caused damage to your property or possessions. The maximum you can collect through a judgment in the small claims division is $6,000. If you win your claim, the judge/magistrate will add the costs of filing and service to the judgment. To file a claim in the 42-1 District Court the cause of action must have arose in the 42-1 jurisdiction or the defendant must reside in the district.
Small claims court is designed to operate informally and without attorneys present. If you feel you need an attorney to represent you, the matter must be filed in the general civil division of the court. In small claims, you represent yourself, speak directly to the judge or magistrate, provide your own evidence and have any witnesses you wish speak for you. You do not need to know the law before you appear for a hearing.
You simply tell the judge why you feel that someone owes you money and the person or business you are suing has the opportunity to tell their side of the situation. After hearing both sides, the judge will decide whether money is owed to any party, and if so, how much. When deciding whether to file a claim, consider whether the person you are suing has any income. Even if the judge grants you a judgment, if the person you sued has no income, it will be difficult for you to collect any money. You might want check this out before you invest your time and money in filing a claim. Note: The clerks of the 42-1 are not attorneys and they cannot give legal advice.
Before you go to small claims court
You are responsible for locating the parties, determine your course of action and gathering your witnesses and evidence. The necessary forms may be picked up at the court.
Before coming to the court to fill out an affidavit of claim, be sure you have the following:
- The filing fee plus the certified mail fee. If you want personal service by a court officer, a bill will be mailed to you for the service which is due before the court date.
- Defendant's full and correct name.
- Defendant's current address. If you furnish an incorrect address and the court officer attempts service he is allowed by law to charge you $10 for his time.
- Amount of claim and pertinent dates.
- A concise statement as to the nature of the claim. You may use a second sheet of paper if necessary.
- A copy of all papers to support your claim, such as bills of sale, receipts, guarantees, accident reports, leases, promissory notes, repair estimates, etc. must be supplied to the court and a copy for each defendant. You must have these at the time filing and again on the day of your hearing. When your claim is filed, a hearing date is set thirty to 45 days away. This generally allows enough time for the defendant to receive the notice no later than the required seven days before the hearing date.
Fees for Small Claims Court
|Claims up to $600||$30 plus cost of certified mailing or personal service|
|Claims over $600 but under $1750||$50 plus cost of certified mailing or personal service|
|Claims over $1750||$70 plus cost of certified mailing or personal service|
|Certified mail fee: Contact court for fees|
|All motion fees are $20|
If you have been sued in small claims court
If you are served with court papers from the small claims court, you are called the defendant. You have several ways to respond to the affidavit and claim you have received. If you want to deny the claim, you must appear in court on the hearing date, bringing with you any evidence you have to support your denial. If you want an attorney to represent you, you must tell the court at or before the hearing. The case will be transferred from small claims court to the regular district court.
If you have a claim against the person who is suing you, you can also file a counter claim. Your written counterclaim should be filed with the court and served by first class mail to the person suing you.
If you fail to appear for the hearing, the court may enter a default judgment against you. This means the judge may grant a judgment for the plaintiff without hearing your statement.
The entry of a judgment may appear on your credit report.
Preparing for a hearing in small claims court
On the hearing date, any of the following may happen:
- If both the person filing the lawsuit and the defendant appear, the judge may recommend that the parties talk to see if a settlement can be reached.
- If the party filing the lawsuit does not appear, and the defendant does appear, the case will be dismissed.
- If the defendant does not appear, the person filing the lawsuit may ask for a "default" judgment. This means that if the judge decides you have a good claim, you can obtain a judgment without a hearing since the person or business you are suing did not appear to challenge you claim.
When you go to court for a hearing, take with you all the evidence you believe proves your claim. This might include a sales receipt, guarantee, lease, contract or accident report. If a damaged article is too big to bring with you, photographs can be presented as evidence. Any witnesses you would like to speak on your behalf should appear in court as well.
Remember, a small claims case will be heard by a judge or attorney magistrate; you have no right to a jury trial, and the hearing will not be recorded.