Is a homeowner refusing to pay for repairs you made to his roof? Is a former landlord refusing to let you get some personal belongings that you left behind when you moved? These are just a couple of examples of the types of legal claims or disputes that are handled by the Louisiana small claims courts.
And, now that you've decided that the only way you're going to get your money or your property is to file a small claims lawsuit, you need to know the mechanics of what to do and how to do it. In general, you have to have to know exactly who you're suing, have the right paperwork and file the suit in the right court.
Where to File
Where you file a small claims case depends on where you and the defendant (the person you're suing) live or where the incident you're suing over happened. If it's in a big city, you probably need to file your case in a City Court, like the Baton Rouge City Court. If it's outside city limits, that is, in a "rural" area, you probably need to file suit in a Justice of the Peace Court, such as the Livingston Parish Justice of the Peace Court. Generally, you need to file your suit in the court that covers:
- Where the defendant lives
- Where the property damage or personal injury you're suing over happened, such as the City Court for the area where the car accident happened
- Where the real property is located, such as the parish where the apartment is located if you're suing your former landlord over a security deposit
- If the defendant is a business, in the city or parish where it does business or has an office
If you don't file the lawsuit in the right court, the defendant can ask the court to move the case to the proper court or even to "dismiss" the case, that is, throw it out of court. This can slow things down for you. So, if you're unsure about where to file your suit, contact the clerk's office for your area for some help.
Statement of Claim and Citation
Lawsuits begin when the plaintiff, the person who's suing, files a "complaint." In the Louisiana small claims courts, there's a special form called the "Statement of Claim and Citation." The court clerk can give you this form. In fact, in many of the Louisiana small claims court, you can tell the court clerk what your suit is about and he'll help you figure out what to say and even type it for you. The clerk isn't a lawyer, though, so he can't give you legal advice.
When you're ready to file, you need to be able to give information about your case, like:
- Your name, address and a telephone number where you can be contacted during the day
- The defendant's name and address
- The amount of money you want the defendant to pay, or a description of the personal property that you want the defendant to turn over to you
- Reasons why the defendant owes you money or why he doesn't have a right to hold the property you want
It's very important that you have the proper name and address of the party you're suing. If you're suing:
- A business that's not a corporation, like a sole proprietorship, you should contact the business licenses office or department in the city or parish where the business is located to get the legal names and addresses for the business and its owner
- A corporation, you can get its exact name and address from Louisiana's Secretary of State. You'll also find the name and address of the company's "registered agent," the person who accepts important documents for the corporation
- A partnership, you should list the name of the partnership as well as the individual partners as defendants. Again the Secretary of State can help you get that information for some partnerships, or you can check with your local Better Business Bureau (BBB)
In Louisiana, you can file your Statement of Claim and Citation in person or by mail. In some courts you can also file by facsimile ("fax"), but you have to pay an extra charge for this and you have to get the original papers to the court within five days.
At the time you file your forms, you will need to pay your filing fees. In Louisiana, the fees vary from court to court, but you can expect to pay between $50 and $150 for suing one defendant, and there's usually an additional fee for each defendant you sue if there's more than one. Be sure to check with the court clerk for the exact fees.
Generally, if you win your case, the small claims court will order the defendant to pay your filing fees (called "court costs"). This will be in addition to any other money or "damages" the court awards you on your claim.