You've been busy getting ready for the small claims trial, and you're ready. You've arranged for your witnesses to be in the courtroom for the trial, and you have all your receipts, bills and other papers in order. It's getting close to the time for the judge of an Alabama small claims court to settle the matter and make a decision.
Now's a good time to get an idea of what happens after the small claims trial is over. Whether you're the plaintiff (the person who filed the suit) or the defendant (the person who's being sued), you should know about some of your options so you can start to make a plan for what to do next, whether you win or lose or the case?
When the judge makes a decision in the case, that is, actually announces or declares who won and who lost, it's called a judgment. The judge may make the judgment:
- Immediately at the end of the case, and either arrange for each party to get a copy of the judgment before they leave the courthouse, or send it to them in the mail a few days later
- After taking some time to think about the case and all of the evidence. This is called taking the case "under consideration." The court clerk will mail a copy of the decision to each party, usually within one or two weeks after trial
Technically, the case is over when the judge makes a decision and it's entered into the court records by the clerk. However, even though the case may be over, you may still have some work to do, depending on whether either party thinks the judge made or mistake or whether the winner gets paid.
Not Happy about the Judgment?
Win or lose, you may have some options if you don't like the way the case turned out:
This is when you ask a higher court to look at the case because you think the judge made a mistake when she decided who won and who lost.
In Alabama, either the plaintiff or the defendant can appeal a decision from the small claims court. The appeal will be heard by the circuit court for the county where the small claims case was decided.
You have to file an appeal within 14 days after the judgment is entered into the court records. You file an appeal by completing a Notice of Appeal. Here, you explain why you think the judge made a mistake. You also have to pay a fee to file the Notice of Appeal, and you also have to "post" an "appeal bond," that is, you have to give the court clerk a certain amount of money to cover some of the costs of the appeal. If you win, this money will be returned to you. The clerk of the district court can tell you the amount of these fees and costs, and can give you the forms you need to file an appeal.
An appeal can be a complex matter. It's a lot more formal than the small claims trial, and more stringent court rules apply. It's a good idea to talk to an attorney if you're thinking about appealing.
Relief from Judgment
The plaintiff or the defendant can file a motion for relief from judgment or "motion for relief," which essentially asks the court for a new trial. This is commonly used when the defendant wants the judge to void or "vacate" a default judgment - a judgment for the plaintiff that was entered because the defendant failed to show up for trial. Another common example is when a plaintiff's case was dismissed because he didn't show up for trial. In the motion he'll ask the judge to vacate the dismissal so that he can continue the case against defendant.
To be successful on this type of motion, you need to "show cause," that is, have a good reason that justifies a new trial. Some examples of good cause include:
- Showing that you were unable to attend the first trial because of an emergency, such as illness
- You've discovered new evidence that wasn't available when the first trial took place
- You actually paid the plaintiff's claim or damages before the trial, or the plaintiff released you from liability on the claim
This type of motion is also used to correct minor typographical or clerical errors. For example, if the judge at trial said that the defendant had to pay you $1,500, but the written judgment lists only $150, you can file this motion to have the judgment corrected.
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case, and the judge orders the defendant to pay all or some of your claim, you need to begin collection efforts if the defendant doesn't pay you as ordered in the judgment. This may include having to appear at one or more hearings and possibly even taking some of the defendant's property and belongings. The same is true if you're the defendant and you won on a counterclaim against the plaintiff. This can be a long and complicated process that may require the help of an attorney.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I sued the defendant for $2,600, but the judge gave me only $2,200. Should I appeal? How much will you charge to represent me on an appeal?
- Can I file a counterclaim against the plaintiff when I appeal a judgment that was entered against me in small claims court?
- The defendant said he was going to appeal my small claims judgment. Is there any way I can challenge or fight his request for an appeal?