The Small Claims Court was established in 1968 as a division of the District Court. Its purpose is to provide a court to be used by people without the aid of attorneys to solve disputes of $3,000 or less.
Before filing your claim, you should have some idea what your chances are of collecting. A judgement does not mean automatic payment. It simply means you have proven to the satisfaction of the court that the person you sued owes you money. There are often cases where a judgment is not particularly difficult to obtain but the collection of money is difficult if not impossible.
The party you have sued 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 reason it may be impossible to make the defendant pay. Income such as welfare, unemployment, social security, etc. cannot be garnished.
Starting a Small Claims Action
The most you can collect through a settlement in the Small Claims Division is $3,000.00 plus costs. The magistrate or judge will add the costs at the time of judgment. To file a claim in the 56B District Court, the business or person you are suing must do business or live in Barry County, or the action must have occurred in Barry County.
Who May File A Claim?
A party who sued another party is called the plaintiff. The party being sued is called the defendant. There can be more than one plaintiff or defendant in the same action. An example would be when a husband and wife sue another husband and wife.
- You must have a direct interest in the suit
Your claim may not exceed $3,000
IF YOU ARE NOT THE PLAINTIFF AND DO NOT HAVE DIRECT AND PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE OF THE FACTS IN THIS DISPUTE, YOU CANNOT COMPLETE THE FORM FOR THE PLAINTIFF.
YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR PROVIDING THE COURT WITH:
- The filing fee plus service fee for certified mail. When filing by mail, send a check or money order made payable to the 56B District Court. Mailing fees are subject to change due to postal increases.
- Defendant’s full and correct name.
- Defendant’s current address (route or post office box numbers are not enough when you want a process server to make personal service). If you furnish an incorrect address and the process server attempts service, he/she is allowed by law to charge you $10.00 for his/her time.
- Amount of claim and pertinent dates.
- A concise statement as to the nature of the claim. The responsibility is yours to prove two things to the court: liability and damages. Liability – whey the defendant is obligated or responsible to pay the money you claim. Damages – the exact amount of money owed.
- At the time of the hearing, you should have copies of all papers to support your claim such as bills of sale, receipts, guarantees, accident reports, leases, promissory notes, repair estimates, photos, etc.
When your claim is filed a hearing date will be set within 30-40 days. This generally allows enough time for the defendant to receive the notice no later than the required seven days before the hearing date. This is done in one of two ways:
- A copy is left with him/her personally by a process server or any legally competent adult who is not a party to the suit.
- The notice is mailed by certified mail with a return receipt requested.
IMPORTANT: Once your claim has been filed, always have the case numbers with you when phoning or coming to the court.
Settlement Prior to Hearing Date:
Frequently the defendant may offer to settle out of court before the hearing date. If settlement is made before he/she is served with the summons, you are not entitled to your court costs. If settlement is made after he/she is served, you are entitled to add your curt costs. IF the claim is paid you should file a voluntary dismissal with the court.
On the date the trial is set, plan to arrive at the court a few minutes early. You must bring all paperwork, witnesses and evidence to prove your case. No adjournment will be granted to permit you to bring these at a later date. One of several things may occur on the scheduled date:
- The defendant may appear, refuse to submit to the Small Claims Division and request that the case be transferred to the General Civil Division. This is his/her legal right. He/she must then file an answer in writing within 14 days of the transfer and a new date will be set.
- The defendant may appear admit liability for your claim and a consent judgment will be entered.
- The defendant may fail to appear. If he/she has proper service and you can prove to the court you have a proper claim, a default judgment will be entered.
- The defendant may appear, disagree with the claim, agree to have it heard in Small Claims Division and the trial will be held.
If service has been made and, 1) neither the plaintiff nor the defendant appear, or 2) the defendant appears but the plaintiff does not, the claim will be dismissed by the court.
Collection of the Judgement:
It is your responsibility to collect a judgement. Because you have a judgement, you have ways of collecting that you would not have otherwise. Two of these are:
Installment Payments: The court encourages the parties to agree among themselves how a judgment is to be paid. If a lump sum payment is not possible, try to reach some agreement on installment payments.
Garnishment: If the defendant will not voluntarily pay the judgment and you know where money is owed to him/her, such as wages, bank accounts, rentals, etc. you may want t file a write of garnishment to attach this money. A writ of garnishment may not be issued to enforce the judgment until the expiration of 21 days after it was entered. The garnishment is filed against the person or business having possession of the monies. They are referred to as the garnishee defendant. As mentioned previously, income such as welfare, unemployment, social security, etc., cannot be garnished.
- You will be responsible for keeping track of how much you have been paid on the judgment through or outside the court, as you will be required to sign a sworn affidavit attesting to the truth and correctness of the amount owing.
- The garnishee defendant must advise the court within 14 days of any indebtedness.
- In the case of wages, the plaintiff is entitled to only a portion of those wages according to federal formula. You may have to garnish several paychecks to satisfy a judgment if no other payments are made.
WHEN PAYMENT OR JUDGMENT IS COMPLETE, EITHER IN FULL OR TO YOUR SATISFACTION, YOU MUST FILE A SATISFACTION OF JUDGMENT WITH THE COURT.
Page Last Modified: June 20, 2008 at 8:36 am