Starting a Small Claims Case
A judgment does not mean automatic payment. It only means you have proven, to the satisfaction of the Court, the person you sued owed you money. A judgment is often not difficult to obtain, but the collection of money may be difficult, if not impossible. The party you sue may be penniless or bankrupt; may have gone out of business or left town; may not earn enough for you to garnish wages, or, for other reasons, it may be impossible to make them pay. Income such as welfare, unemployment, social security, and other similar payments cannot be garnished.
If you file a small claims case, you will be responsible for handling the case in accordance with all applicable court rules and procedures and for the collection of any judgments. Although it was designed to be an informal process, you may find it complicated and very frustrating.
You cannot bring into Small Claims Court actions for fraud, slander, assault or batter, or other intentional torts. You should be aware that:
- Court Clerks are not attorneys and are not allowed, by law, to give legal advice or assist you filling out the forms.
- The Judge may not give advice on matters he/she may have to rule on; he/she must remain impartial.
Waiving Your Rights
By appearing in Small Claims Court, you waive several rights:
- The right to be represented by an attorney
- The right to a jury trial
- The right to appeal beyond the district court
The Hearing Day
If both parties (plaintiff and defendant) appear, the Judge will hear both sides of the case and enter a judgment. The hearing is held in an informal manner. Please briefly and precisely explain to the judge why the defendant owes you money.
Each party is entitled to explain his/her case. Please do not interrupt. Instead, make notes as the other party speaks and then ask permission to speak again or ask questions regarding the testimony. If neither party appears, the case will be dismissed.
Defendant Fails to Appear
If the defendant fails to appear, the person filing the lawsuit may ask for a default judgment. This means, should the judge decide you have a good claim, a judgment without a hearing will be granted, as the defendant has failed to appear to challenge your claim. However, the defendant has 14 days to file a motion to set aside the default judgment and request a new hearing date. If that motion is granted, a new hearing date may be set.
The defendant has 21 days to voluntarily comply with the judgment. If the judgment is not satisfied, the plaintiff may take the necessary steps to enforce the judgment. A small claims judgment is valid for 6 years from the date of entry.
Small Claim Forms are available, for a small fee, from the Court.
|Claims up to $600||$30|
|Claims over $600 up to $1,750||$50|
|Claims over $1,750 up to $5,000||$70|