In Arkansas, each district court has a division known as small claims court. Small claims courts are located in the same building and are served by the same personnel as municipal courts. In small claims court, you can sue to recover for damages to personal property, money owed or for delivery of personal property which is worth $5,000 or less.
Attorneys aren't allowed. Small claims courts are designed to allow individuals to settle certain disputes in court under relaxed rules of procedure and without attorneys.
In order to bring a lawsuit, the plaintiff must file a legal form known as a complaint. The person or business that files the complaint is called the plaintiff. The person or business that is sued is called the defendant.
Parties in Small Claims Actions
Any individual, business or corporation may bring a small claims suit for the recovery of money when the amount requested is $5,000 or less. However, no action may be filed in a small claims court by any collection agency, collection agent or any other person, firm, partnership, association or corporation engaged/involved in the business of lending money with interest.
Where to File a Small Claims Case
A small claims lawsuit can be filed:
- Where defendant resides (a corporation resides where it does business)
- Where the injury occurred
- For contracts, where performance expected
Appeals are allowed and must be filed within 30 days from the date the small claims judgment is entered on the district court docket by the judge. All appeals are filed in the circuit court of the county where the small claims court is located.
Cases Suitable for Small Claims Court
Many different kinds of cases go to small claims court. Some of the most common cases involve:
- Claims for money owed
- Car repair disputes
- Property damage
- Landlord/tenant disputes
Claims for personal injuries may not be filed in small claims court.
Statute of Limitations
Under the law, there are limits on how long you have to bring any lawsuit. These limits are called "statute of limitations." The length of time you have to file depends upon the type of claim you are bringing. If a written agreement has been broken or breached, you have five years after the date it was broken to file your complaint. If an oral agreement or contract, rent or injury to goods is involved, then you usually have three years to file your claim.
Court Costs and Filing Fees
The plaintiff has to pay certain fees when a case is filed. If the plaintiff wins, the judge may order the defendant to reimburse the plaintiff's court costs. Costs of presenting a claim in the small claims division of the district court varies from county to county. The minimum filing fees are $25. The cost of service (delivering) of the complaint is extra.
The first step required by the defendant is to file a written response on the answer form provided with the service of the complaint. The defendant must file the form within 20 days if served in Arkansas or within 30 days if served out-of-state. A copy of the answer and/or counterclaim must be mailed to the plaintiff. After an answer and/or counterclaim have been filed, the parties will be notified of the trial date by the court.
When the defendant receives notice of the small claims filing, he or she may file a "counterclaim." A counterclaim is a claim for damages presented by a defendant in opposition to or deduction from the claim of the plaintiff. It arises from the same set of circumstances on which the plaintiff filed the lawsuit. If proven, the defendant's counterclaim will defeat or reduce the plaintiff's claim.
A setoff is a special type of counterclaim which the defendant files against the plaintiff. A setoff arises from a different set of circumstances than those on which the plaintiff filed the lawsuit.
The defendant must file a counterclaim or setoff on the written form provided with the service of the complaint. The defendant must then see that the plaintiff and court clerk receive a copy. The defendant must bear the cost of the filing and service, if any, but if defendant wins in court he or she will be reimbursed for these costs by the plaintiff.
Transferring Case to District Court
The case may be transferred to the circuit court if the defendant countersues for more than $5,000.
Questions for Your Attorney
- If my claim is for just over the dollar limit, should I still file a lawsuit in small claims court?
- Will an attorney assist me with my small claims case even though I can't be represented by one in small claims court?
- Can I sue a federal agency in small claims court?