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An Overview of Small Claims Court

Contents

    If you have a dispute or disagreement and the amount you’re disagreeing over is $5,500 or less, you might want to file a case in small claims court.

    Although it’s called small claims court, it’s a division of the district court.

    Who Hears Your Case

    When you have a case in small claims court, a district court judge might hear and decide on it. An attorney magistrate can also hear and decide on it. If a judge hears your case, you can’t appeal the decision. If a magistrate hears your case you can appeal within seven days of judgment. The case is then heard by the District Court Judge.

    You can’t have a jury in a small claims case. A judge or magistrate must hear and decide your case.

    Kinds of Cases

    Small claims court can handle most civil cases in which the amount in controversy is $5,500 or less.

    You can only get money in small claims cases. If you want something other than money, you can’t file your case in small claims court. For example, you cannot ask for a certain object to be returned, for this you must file a claim and delivery.

    Some examples of small claims cases are:

    • A dispute between a landlord and tenant about the return of a security deposit

    • Performing, setting aside, or changing a contract

    • A car accident where the insurance didn’t cover the damages

    • a dishonored check (a check someone wrote to you that the bank did not pay)

    • a consumer protection violation (you were harmed by someone’s deceptive business practices); or

    • a recreational trespass (someone trespassed on your land while engaging in a recreational activity)

    You can’t file your case in small claims court if you want to sue someone for:

    • Fraud

    • Libel

    • Slander

    • Assault and battery

    • Other intentional harm or damage

    $5,500 Maximum

    The small claims court can’t award more than $5,500. If you have a case you think is worth more than $5,500, you can still file it in Small Claims Court. But if you do, you lose the right to any amount over $5,500. And you can’t sue again based on the same dispute after a judge or magistrate has made a decision about it.

    No Lawyers Allowed

    You can’t have a lawyer represent you in a small claims case. You have to represent yourself, and be able to tell the judge or magistrate why you should get the money you’re requesting. You need to present your case with evidence, and be able to speak in front of a judge and your opponent.

    You can remove your small claims case to regular district court where you can have an attorney. So can the defendant.

    Before You File

    Consider your chances of winning your case. Think about whether out of court options might work, such as a settlement or mediation. If you lose your case, you will not get the filing fee or service fee back.

    To learn about starting a case in small claims court, read the article Taking a Small Claims Case to Court.