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Small Claims Court Filing Procedures

Step 1 - Determine who to file your claim against
Should I Even File a Claim?

Determine whether you are bringing a claim against a person or a corporation and then be sure you have the correct name of the person or corporation and street address.

Step 2 - Determine where to file your claim

All claims must be filed in the district court (usually the county) where the defendant lives and, in the case of accidents, where the accident occurred. Corporations are required to have a representative in every state where they do business so you can sue them where you live. If you're unsure of where to file, call the nearest Court Administrator's Office. The law requires that the court clerk help you understand how to file your claim and the rules of the court. They can tell you in which district a particular address is located and where to file your small claims court case.

Step 3: Filing the Notice of Small Claim Form

"Notice of Small Claim Forms" can be obtained from the district court in which you file your claim. It can filled out at the court or filed by mail and, in some areas, filed on-line. FREE small claims court forms

If filing by mail, make the appropriate number of copies (usually four) and mail along with your check or money order (average fee is $20) and a large self-addressed, stamped envelope (use two stamps). Information needed to complete the Notice of Small Claim is:

  • Name and complete residence address and telephone number of the person or corporation you are bringing the claim against.
  • In the case of traffic accidents, the date and location of the accident
  • Amount of your claim in dollars See these rules and then verify with the court clerk for maximum amounts.

Step 4 - Court trial/hearing date

Upon receipt, the small claims court clerk assigns a case number and trial date and then uses the envelope you provide to send you two copies of the 'Notice of Small Claims' with the case number and trial date (usually 3-4 weeks later) added. One copy is for you and the other must be delivered to the defendant.

Step 5 - Notifying defendant of the small claim

You MUST notify the defendant at least ten days before the date of the trial by having the Notice of Small Claim Form delivered to the defendant HOWEVER, you are not permitted to deliver these papers yourself!

There are 4 ways to notify the defendant:

1. Certified Mail: If certified mail only is used, the clerk of the court has to do this for you. Usually anyone involved in the case CANNOT serve any papers however, you can use certified mail return receipt requested to serve the defendant the Notice of Small Claim Form. Just remember they can refuse to accept registered or certified mail. If that is likely to happen, you should arrange to have someone personally serve the notice on the defendant.

2. County Sheriff: This is the safest method and the one I highly recommend! Simply call the Sheriff's Office and ask for the service. There is a small fee plus mileage and they will only make one attempt. If you win, this cost will be added to the judgment.

3. Process Server: Listed in the Yellow Pages under "Process Servers." they charge a fee as well ($35 - $65) that can be added to the judgment, if you win.

4. Other Persons: Any person, 18 years of age or older, who is not involved in the case, may personally deliver the notice to the defendant for you.

NOTE 1: If this person delivers the notice to the defendant's residence, it can only be given to someone who resides there and over 12 years of age.

NOTE 2: If this person delivers the notice to the defendant's place of business, it must be handed to the defendant personally.

NOTE 3: If this person delivers the notice to a corporation, it must be delivered to the company president (or his or her secretary) or the manager (or his or her secretary).

Step 6 - Proof of Service:

You must file proof that the defendant was served with the notice. If the Sheriff or a professional process server delivers the notice, they complete a certificate of service and send the original to the court for you.

If another person served the notice, have that person sign an affidavit of service before a notary public or complete a return of service form and then file the affidavit or certificate with the court clerk.

If the defendant was served by mail, file the return receipt as proof with the court clerk.

Preparing your small claims court case

Up Should I even bother to file?

There are times when it simply does not make sense to file a claim. Before filing, consider:

  • Does the person against whom you would bring the claim have enough money to pay you even if you got a judgment?
  • Is the amount you would claim so small that it is simply not worth the time and effort to pursue it?
  • Do you have the time and patience for the effort necessary to file, prepare and prosecute your claim?
  • Does the person against whom you would bring the claim have any possible claims against you?
  • Is the person against whom you would bring the claim a close relative, neighbor or friend?
  • Do you feel confident enough to prosecute your claim by yourself without an attorney?

Additional Considerations:

  • Is your case a clear-cut legal point? Judges love it when the decision is already made for them! Eliminate any gray area in your case and you'll win every time!
  • Can your evidence convince the judge that you are at least 51 percent right? If so, you win? Make it easy for the judge to see more than 50 percent in your favor.
  • Remember, you cannot ask a lot of questions in court (it's not like a regular court trial) so you must be able to prove your case with the evidence you can gather on your own.
  • Look for ANY state statute, law or code violation and point this put to the judge.
  • Appearance is important; wear normal business attire;
  • Remain professional at all times (even if the other party lies through their teeth) remain respectful!
  • NEVER interrupt the judge and do not interrupt the other party;
  • Hearsay evidence is worthless and will not be allowed!
  • Don't ramble - get to the point!
  • NEVER lie under oath!