What is Small Claims Court?
The small claims court was established in 1968 as a division of the District Court system. Its purpose is to provide a court to be used by people, without the aid of attorneys, to settle monetary disputes of $6,000 or less. Small Claims only handles monetary issues, we cannot make anyone return items, or do anything.
You do not need to know anything about the law to bring a suit in small claims court. Since lawyers are not allowed to argue cases for clients, you don't need a lawyer. You simply state your case in your own words. After both sides have been heard, the judge or magistrate decides on who is right.
If you win the case, the defendant must comply with the judge's ruling. It's important to remember that a judge's decision is final in small claims court. It cannot be appealed to a higher court. However, if the case is heard by a magistrate, either the plaintiff or the defendant may, within seven days from the issue date of the judgment, ask that the case be reheard by a judge if the magistrate's decision is unfavorable.
How to file a Small Claims lawsuit in the 75th District Court:
Before filing your small claim case, you may wish to consider some things including:
- Is the person you are suing collectible – how likely is it that you will be able to recover the money that you may be awarded by the judge/magistrate,
- How much you are willing to spend in order to try and collect that money,
- And is small claims the type of suit you wish to file (Remember, either party may file a demand for the case to be removed to General Civil at any point before the small claims hearing is held).
In order to file a small claim against the person or business you want to sue, you must first determine the proper venue. You must file your suit in the district court based either on where the defendant lives, or where the business is located, or where the transactions took place.
Tell the clerk seated at the Small Claims window that you want to file a small claim. The Affidavit of Claim form may be purchased for $1 at the court, or it may be filled out online and printed off ahead of time. If you complete the online form, you will only need to provide the original.
You will need to know the exact name and address of the person or business you are suing (please note, the Court does not assist you in locating a current address), how much money you are suing for, and why you are suing. You must also choose how you wish to have the papers served. Your options include restricted certified mail, process servers, or any legally competent adult who is not a party or an officer of a corporate party in the case (*this person must know how to properly complete the Proof of Service form.) If the defendant cannot be located and served personally, or by alternate service, the suit cannot go forward.
Hearings are typically set about four weeks out. Your court date will be filled in on your copy of the Affidavit and Claim. If you have any date restrictions, please let us know at the time of filing and we will do our best to accommodate you.
If you win the case, you may be entitled to be reimbursed by the defendant for the costs of filing your suit.
If you have any questions or need help, ask the small claims clerk. He/she will help you as much as is legally possible. The clerk may tell you how to use the court, but may NOT give legal advice.
Please be aware that having a judgment issued in favor of the plaintiff only allows the plaintiff the right to attempt collections. It does NOT guarantee there will be any money available for actual collection.
Before the hearing:
The person/business you are suing has the right to ask that the case be heard in a higher court, which is the general civil division. This removal does allow either party to then hire an attorney, if desired. You will be notified if the defendant makes such a request.
It is possible that the defendant will offer to pay out of court once a notice of your pending lawsuit is received. If you reach such an agreement, make sure that the terms of payment are put in writing and signed by both you and the defendant. Then, file a copy of the agreement with the court. Once accepted by the court, the agreement becomes an official judgment of the court and is enforceable by law. Also the parties may agree to drop the case entirely, in which case a dismissal form should be filed in order to close the case.
You should also contact any witnesses you want to appear in court on your behalf to document your claim.
The hearing will take place at the court where you filed your claim, unless another location is specified by the court. Be there on time. Check in with the clerk seated at the Small Claims window. Be sure to bring all your evidence with you, and make sure any witnesses are there on time.
If you fail to attend the hearing without having notified the court, your claim will be dismissed. If the defendant does not show up for the hearing, the court will usually grant you a "default judgment". This means that the judge decides in your favor even though the other side of the case has not been presented.
Collecting your money
If the judge decides in your favor, it means the defendant must pay you the amount ordered by the magistrate or judge, plus court costs. If the defendant refuses to abide by the order of the court, there are various options open to you. Please note, the court does not perform any collections actions on your behalf.
Read more about options for collecting money on a Small Claims Judgment.