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Common Questions about Small Claims

Contents

    Questions about Small Claims

    What is small claims court?

    Small claims court is a division of the district court. It handles certain simple cases, and can only award up to $6,000 in damages. There are no lawyers or jury trials in small claims cases. Plaintiffs and defendants must represent themselves in hearings in front of judges or magistrates. To learn more about small claims court, read the article An Overview of Small Claims Court.

    What if I think I should get more than $6,000 in my small claims case?

    If you want more than $6,000, file your case in district court.

    The small claims court can’t award more than $6,000. If you think you should get more than $6,000 in your case, you can still file it in small claims court. But if you do, you can only get up to $6,000.

    You also can’t sue again based on the same dispute after a judge or magistrate has made a decision about it.

    Why would I file a claim in small claims court?

    Small claims court might be a good choice if the amount of money involved in your dispute is less than you might pay a lawyer to help solve the problem. Small claims court is considered faster, easier, and less expensive than regular court.

    What cases belong in small claims court?

    Only certain kinds of claims belong in small claims court. These include simple cases to:

    • Recover money
    • Perform a contract
    • Set aside a contract or
    • Change a contract

    For example, the small claims court can hear a case between a landlord and a tenant about the return of a security deposit. Or it can hear a case about a car accident where insurance did not cover the deductible or damages to a car.

    Cases that don't belong in small claims court include: 

    • Fraud
    • Libel
    • Slander
    • Assault
    • Battery or
    • Other intentional wrongs

    Some intentional wrongdoing cases do belong in small claims court. These include:

    • Actions for insufficient funds (bounced checks) 
    • Consumer Protection Act cases and
    • Recreational trespass (someone trespassed while engaging in a recreational activity)
    How much does it cost to file a case in small claims court?

    You must pay the filing fee when you file your Affidavit and Claim. The filing fee is based on how much money you’re asking for. It is:

    • $30 if your claim is for up to $600

    • $50 if your claim is for more than $600 up to $1,750

    • $70 if your claim is for more than $1,750 up to $6,000

    If you can’t afford to pay the filing fee, you can ask the court to waive your fees. Read the article Fee Waivers in Court Cases to learn about getting your fees waived.

    Where do I file my small claims case?

    File your small claims case in the district court where the cause of action arose. That’s where the transaction or dispute in question took place. You also can file where the person or business you are suing is located.

    How long do I have to start a small claims case? (Statute of Limitations)

    In Michigan, the statute of limitations is usually six years. This means you must start a case within six years of when the dispute happened. You start the case by filing a complaint.

    You must start it within six years of the last activity on the account if the case involves a credit account. Activity on the account is:

    • Using the account,
    • Paying on the account, or
    • Acknowledging the debt.

    You must start the case within four years of the last activity on the account if the case involves:

    • An installment sales contract to buy a motor vehicle or
    • The sale of goods.

    You must start the case within three years of when the contract was signed if the case involves a mobile home sale.

    Will a judge decide my small claims case?

    Small claims cases are heard and decided by district court judges or attorney magistrates. You can appeal an attorney magistrate’s decision within seven days of the judgment if you disagree with it. A district court judge will then decide the case. You can’t appeal the judge’s decision.

    Can I have a jury in a small claims case?

    No. You can’t have a jury in a small claims case. A judge or magistrate must hear and decide your case. If someone involved in the case wants a jury, the case can be moved to district court.

    What if I want to have a lawyer in my small claims case?

    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.

    If you want to have a lawyer, you can move your small claims case to regular district court. In a regular district court, you can have a lawyer, whether you’re a plaintiff or a defendant.

    I got served a Small Claims Affidavit and Claim. What does this mean?

    If you were served a Small Claims Affidavit and Claim, you are the defendant in a small claims case. Whoever filed the claim is the plaintiff.

    When you get notice of the case, you can:

    • Settle out of court

    • Move the case to district court or

    • Go to small claims court for the hearing

    If you don’t do anything, the case won’t just go away. If you don’t go to court for the hearing, the plaintiff will probably get a default judgment against you. The plaintiff may then take steps to collect the amount of the judgment, such as garnishment or seizing your property.

    To learn more, read the article Defending a Small Claims Case.

    Questions about Who Can Sue in Small Claims Court

    Can I sue a business in small claims court?

    You can sue a business or company in small claims court.

    Can my company sue someone in small claims court?

    Yes.

    You can file a case in small claims court for a corporation if you are its full-time salaried employee.

    You can file a case in small claims court for a sole proprietorship if you are its owner. This is a business that is not a corporation, but is owned by one person.

    You can file a case in small claims court for a partnership if you are a partner. This is a business that is not a corporation, but is owned by two or more people.

    Can an out-of-state individual or business file a claim in Michigan?

    Yes. A small claims case should be filed in the district court where the cause of action arose or where the person or business being sued is located. The cause of action arose where the transaction or dispute in question took place. There’s no requirement that you live in the district or the state.

    Claims can be filed by mail. Look at the checklist at the bottom of the small claims toolkit to learn how.

    Can I file a case for someone else in small claims court?

    You can file a small claims case for another person if you are that person’s guardian, conservator, or next friend.

    A probate court appoints a guardian to make personal decisions for another. These include day-to-day decisions, such as those involving health care and education.

    A probate court appoints a conservator to care for another’s personal property and finances.

    A next friend is a concerned person, such as a parent or other trusted adult, who can appear in court for a child or incapacitated adult.

    Can I sue the State of Michigan in small claims court?

    No. You can’t sue the state or a state agency in small claims court. If you want to sue the State of Michigan, you need to file your case in district or circuit court. You may want to talk to a lawyer about your case.

    Can a debt collector sue me in small claims court?

    A debt collector can’t sue a debtor in small claims court. Only the original parties to a transaction can sue in small claims court. The right to collect a debt can be sold or transferred. Creditors do this when they sell debts to collection agencies. A collection agency is not an original party to the transaction.

    Questions about what Happens After a Small Claims Case

    If I win, does the person I sued have to pay my filing fees?

    You can ask the court to order the other party to pay your filing fees if you win your small claims case.

    How do I collect the money I was awarded in my case?

    If the other party is there and has the money, you can collect it at court. If the other party doesn’t pay the judgment, 21 days after the judgment is entered you can use a court process to collect the money. You can file a writ of garnishment to garnish the party’s:

    • Bank account,
    • State tax return, or
    • Regular income.

    You can also ask for an order to seize property to pay the judgment.

    Read the article Collecting Your Judgment to learn more.

    Does a small claims judgment against me become part of my credit report?

    Yes. A small claims judgment is a debt owed through the court. It is public record. It becomes part of your credit report.