You've been preparing for your small claims case for a while now. You've arranged for witnesses to be at trial and you have all the receipts and other documents ready. It's getting close to the time for the magistrate of the Connecticut small claims court to make a decision.
Now's a good time to get an idea of 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.
The judgment is when the magistrate makes a decision in the case, that is, decides who won. The magistrate can announce the judgment:
- Immediately at the end of the case, and either give each party a copy of the judgment that day 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 consideration." The magistrate will then mail a copy of the decision to each party
Technically, the case is over when the magistrate makes a decision and the decision is entered into the court records by the court clerk. However, while the case may be over, you may still have some work to do.
Not Happy about the Judgment?
In some circumstances you have some options if you're the plaintiff (the person who filed suit) and you lost, either because the magistrate:
- Didn't agree with your claim that the defendant (the person you sued) owed you money, or
- Agreed with the defendant on his counterclaim that you owed him money
Relief from Judgment
The plaintiff or the defendant can file a Motion to Open Judgment, which essentially asks the court for a new trial. This is commonly used when the defendant wants the magistrate to void or "vacate" a default judgment - a judgment for the plaintiff that was entered because the defendant didn't show up for trial or didn't file an answer to the plaintiff's Writ of Claim - that is, the defendant didn't file a written challenge to or denial of the plaintiff's claim with the court. 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 magistrate to vacate the dismissal so that he can continue the case against defendant. You'll need to show the magistrate a good reason why you didn't file an answer or show up for trial.
You can also use this motion to correct minor clerical error in the judgment. For example, if after the trial the judge announced a decision that the defendant owes you $3,500, but the written judgment you get in the mail later states that you're owed $350, you can file the this motion to have the judgment corrected.
Sometimes you can use this motion when you have some other good reason to have the magistrate look at the case again. 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, but the plaintiff went through with the trial anyway
Generally, you have to file the motion within four months after the judgment was entered into the court records, which usually is the same day the magistrate makes a decision. You have to pay a fee when file this motion, and you may have to pay other costs. The clerk of the court where the judgment was made can tell you the current fee and costs..
In Connecticut, you can't appeal a decision from the small claims court. That is, you can't ask another court to look at the case because you think the magistrate made a mistake. The judgment of the small claims court is final.
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case (or the defendant and you win on a counterclaim), and the magistrate 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
- A default judgment was entered against me and I filed a Motion to Open Judgment, but the magistrate denied it. I think I had a good reason for not filing an answer. Is there anything else I can do?
- I only have a few days left to file a Motion to Open Judgment, and I don't think I can file it time. Can I get an extension? If not, can you file it in time?
- I got a default judgment against the defendant in my small claims suit and he's filed a Motion to Open Judgment. Can I do something to challenge the defendant's motion, or do I have to wait for the magistrate's decision?