In Colorado, the small claims court can handle only certain kinds of claims. Generally, these are simple cases to recover money or property, perform a contract, set aside a contract or comply with restrictive covenants. The court can't award more than $7,500 plus court costs and interest.
You can't have a jury trial in small claims court. All claims are heard by a magistrate, unless one of the parties timely requests a judge hear the case or unless that particular court location doesn't have a magistrate. The small claims court can't hear cases of libel or slander, eviction, traffic violations or criminal matters.
The person or business that files a lawsuit is called the plaintiff. The person or business that is sued is called the defendant. In order to bring a lawsuit, the plaintiff must file a legal form known as a complaint. You can get this form from the courthouse, or by visiting the Colorado State Judicial Branch Web site. Click on the "Forms" tab and select "Small Claims" from the menu.
Parties in Small Claims Actions
An individual, company or other organization may bring a small claims suit for the recovery of money or property when the amount requested is $7,500 or less. If your claim is worth more than $7,500, you will have to waive your right to the amount that exceeds $7,500, or you will have to bring your claim in a different court.
Where to File a Small Claims Case
All actions in the small claims court are to be brought in the county where any of the defendants reside, are regularly employed, have an office for the transaction of business or are students at an institution of higher education. In an action to enforce restrictive covenants or arising from a security deposit dispute, the action may be brought in the county in which the subject real property is located.
The person or business that loses the lawsuit may ask the magistrate to "stay" the proceedings to allow for an appeal.
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
- Contractual obligations
- Restrictive covenant disputes
- Property damage
- Landlord/tenant disputes
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.
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. The filing fee varies based on the amount of the claim. The filing cost is $31 for claims up to $500 and $55 for claims from $500.01 to $7,500.
Service of Notice, Claim and Summons to Appear for Trial
The defendant must be served with the notice, claim and summons at least 15 days before the trial. If not, the trial date will need to be rescheduled or the case may be dismissed.
The response, which is found on the back of the complaint form, is the defendant's opportunity to describe the facts that show why the defendant thinks the plaintiff's claim is not valid. This is called the defense. The defendant can also file a counterclaim with the response.
A counterclaim is a claim by the defendant against the plaintiff. The claim is 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. The counterclaim can't exceed $7,500 or the defendant must be willing to accept a maximum of $7,500. If proven, the defendant's counterclaim will defeat or reduce the plaintiff's claim.
Hiring an Attorney
The defendant may choose to hire an attorney to represent him or her. However, if a defendant files a notice of representation and then appears without an attorney at trial or fails to appear at all, the court could find the defendant acted in bad faith and award costs including attorney fees in favor of the plaintiff.
If the defendant hires an attorney, the plaintiff also has the right to hire an attorney to represent him or her, and the case may remain in small claims court.
Questions for Your Attorney
- If my claim is for just over the dollar limit, should I still file a lawsuit in small claims court?
- Can a plaintiff be represented by an attorney if the defendant isn't represented by an attorney?
- Can I sue a federal agency in small claims court?