Small Claims Court: What It Is and How It Works


About Small Claims Court

Small claims court is a forum that exists in all 50 states in which a judge hears disputes between private parties that do not involve large amounts of money. Examples of cases that are typically heard in small claims court are evictions, other landlord-tenant disputes, disputes about providing services such as fixing a car, and small debt collection actions. However, be aware as some cases are not worth taking to small claims court.

Small Claims Court Monetary Limits and Jurisdiction

a.)   Most states impose a maximum monetary limit on the amount of a judgment that the small claims court can award. This limit is usually between $3,000 and $10,000 dollars.

b.)   If you choose to have your case heard in small claims court, then you will not be able to obtain money from the other party in excess of the monetary limit.

c.)   If you have a claim against someone whose value exceeds the monetary limit for small claims court, then the small claims court would have no jurisdiction over your claim, and you would need to file your claim in state or federal court in accordance with your state’s laws.

d.)   With a sole exception, jury trials are not available in small claims courts, and equitable remedies such as injunctions are rarely available.

e.)   You also cannot file for divorce, file for guardianship, ask for a name change, file for bankruptcy, or file any kind of lawsuit against the federal government in small claims court. However, in some states, if one party in a small claims case requests that the case be moved from small claims court to a regular court, then the case must be moved as requested.

Small Claims Court Procedure

While the procedures for filing a case in small claims court vary widely from one state to the next, your small claims case must generally be heard in the county or jurisdiction in which your dispute occurred. Watch this informative video on small claims court procedures for further explanation.

Steps to Remember When Filing Your Claim

1.   The court will likely require you to complete forms that describe the nature of the dispute between you and the other party, and what you are asking the court to do about that dispute.

2.   You also will need the other party’s address so that he or she can be served with legal notice of your small claims case.

3.   In order to file a small claims court case, you must pay a filing fee. Fees can range from $15.00 to $150.00 dollars, depending on the jurisdiction and the amount of your claim. See your county’s Clerk of Courts office for fees in your area.

Representing Your Claim in Court

Once your claim is filed, the court will set a hearing date for you and the other party to appear in court about your case. Both parties will then have the chance to present evidence to the judge.

In most states, the rules of civil procedure and evidence are simplified to apply in small claims court. In other words, the small claims court is run much more informally than other courts. The idea behind a small claims court is that an individual ought to be able to represent him or herself in court in small disputes without the expense of hiring a lawyer.

Some Rules Still Stand in Small Claims Court

1.   In many states a corporation that is party to a small claims case must be represented by an attorney.

2.   Likewise, the small claims court rules generally provide for the entry of a default judgment if the person being sued does not show up for the hearing as scheduled and has not requested that the hearing date be postponed.

Collecting Your Award

While winning your case in small claims court may result in an order for the other party to pay you money, it unfortunately does not guarantee that you will actually receive the money from the other party as ordered.

Many times you will need to file additional paperwork with the court to try and collect your judgment from the other party. Sometimes, if the other party is employed, you can ask the court to issue a wage garnishment against the other party in order to get your judgment paid.

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