You've been preparing for your small claims case for a while now, and it's almost time for the judge or magistrate of an Alaska small claims court to make a decision. You're ready, though. You have all of your photographs, bills and other papers organized, and you've arranged for your witnesses to be at trial.
Now, it's a good idea to learn about what happens after the small claims trial is over. What can you do if you win? What if you lose? 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.
After the judge has seen all of the evidence and has listened to both you and the defendant and the witnesses from both sides, he'll make a decision, that is, decide who wins. The decision is called a judgment. The judge may announce the judgment:
- Immediately at the end of the case, and either give each party a copy of the judgment before they leave the courthouse or send it to them in the mail
- After taking some time to think about the case and all of the evidence. This is called taking the case "under advisement." The court clerk will mail a copy of the decision to each party once he's made a decision
Technically, the case is over when the judge makes a decision and it's entered into the court records by the court clerk. However, while 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, either about the facts of the case or in applying the law to the case.
In Alaska, either you or the defendant can file an appeal. So, if you won but you think the judge didn't award you enough money, you may appeal. Or, if the defendant thinks you shouldn't have won at all, he may appeal.
You have to file an appeal within 30 days after you receive the judgment. You file an appeal by completing a Notice of Appeal and filing it with the clerk of the superior court for the county where the small claims case was decided. The Notice of Appeal simply tells the court and the other party why you're appealing the case. The clerk of the district court or superior court can tell you the current fee for filing 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 to ignore the judgment and hold a new trial. 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 motion is also used to correct minor clerical or typographical errors in the judgment. For example, if the judge announced in court that the defendant had to pay you $5,600, but the written judgment states the amount as $560, you may file a motion for relief to have the judgment corrected.
Generally, you have to file the motion within one year after the judgment was entered by judge or magistrate.
If the plaintiff was given a "default judgment" because the defendant didn't file an answer to the plaintiff's complaint or didn't show up for trial, the defendant may file motion asking the court to set aside the default judgment. The defendant has to show the court that he has a chance of winning the case if it goes to trial and that he had a good reason for not filing an answer and/or not appearing at trial. If the judge grants the motion, a new trial will be scheduled.
These same rules apply if the defendant was given a default judgment because he filed a counterclaim against the plaintiff and the plaintiff didn't show up for trial.
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. This can be a long and complicated process that may require the help of an attorney.
Questions for Your Attorney
- The defendant in my small claims case told me that he's going to file a motion to set aside the default judgment that I was granted. Is there any way I can challenge or fight his motion and have the judgment stand?
- How much will you charge to represent me on an appeal from small claims judgment?
- Can I file a counterclaim against the plaintiff when I appeal judgment that was entered against me in small claims court?