Do you have a customer who refuses to pay you for the repairs you made to her car? Or is your former landlord refusing to refund your security deposit? These are just a couple of examples of the types of claims or disputes that are resolved by the Connecticut small claims courts.
Now that you're ready to file a small claims lawsuit to get your money, you need to know the mechanics of what to do and how to do it. In general, you have to know exactly who you're suing, have the right paperwork, and file the suit in the right court.
Where to File
Small claims cases are heard by a special "session" or part of the Superior Court of Connecticut. You file the case either at the state's Centralized Small Claims Office in the City of Hartford, or the Small Claims Facility in the appropriate city. Generally, the "appropriate facility" is the one for the city or town where:
- You live, or
- The defendant lives or does business, or
- Where the business deal or injury took place, such as where the sales contract was signed or where the car accident happened, or
- Where the rental property is located, if your case involves a landlord-tenant dispute, such as the return of a security deposit or payment of back rent
The Small Claims Facility locations by city or town are available online, or you can check your local telephone book.
Small Claims Writ and Notice of Suit
Lawsuits begin when the plaintiff, the person who's suing, files a "complaint." In the Connecticut small claims courts, there's a special form called a "Small Claims Writ and Notice of Suit," which is available online or from any Small Claims Facility. When filling out this form, you need to give information about case in a clear and simple way. Print neatly and just give the facts about your claim. Specifically, you'll need to give:
- Your name, address and a telephone number where you can be contacted during the day
- The name and address of the party you're suing (called the "defendant")
- The amount of money you want the defendant to pay
- Reasons why the defendant owes you money
It's very important that you have the proper name and address of the party you're suing. If you're suing:
- A business that's not a corporation, like a sole proprietorship, you should contact the city or town clerk where the business is located to get the legal names and addresses for the business and its owner
- A corporation, you can get its exact name and address from Connecticut's Secretary of State Office. You'll also find the name of the company's "registered agent," the person who accepts important documents for the corporation. If the corporation is incorporated in another state (called a "non-resident" or "foreign" corporation), you need to check the secretary of state's office of that state
- A partnership or limited liability company (LLC), you should list the name of the partnership as well as the individual partners. Again the city or town clerk's office or the Secretary of State can help you get that information
In Connecticut, you need to attach to the claim copies of any documents you're going to rely on in your case, such as receipts, leases or billing statements.
At the time you file your claim, you will need to pay a filing fee of $35.
Generally, if you win your case, the small claims court will order the defendant to pay your filing fee (called "court costs"). This will be in addition to any other money or "damages" the court awards you on your claim.
Service of Process
"Service of process" is when one party gives the other party notice that he's being sued. Generally, this is done by making sure that the defendant gets a copy of the claim that you filed. In most cases, the clerk of the Small Claims Facility will make sure that the defendant gets a copy of your claim. However, if you're suing a non-resident corporation, you're responsible for making sure that it's served. The clerk will tell you how to do this, but generally you have arrange and pay for the claim to be delivered to the defendant by a state marshal.
Make sure you have the right name and address! If the defendant isn't served properly your case can't go forward, and it may "thrown out" of court, and you'll then have to start all over again. If you're suing a corporation, you need to serve its "registered agent." She's the person named by the corporation who's responsible for accepting important documents and papers on behalf of or for the corporation. If you're suing a sole proprietorship, you need to serve the business's owner or its registered agent, if it has one. If you're suing a partnership, you need to serve its general or managing partner.
Once you've filed suit, the defendant can do any number of things, such as :
- Settle the claim, that is, simply agree that he owes you money and pay you. If you agree to a settlement before trial, you need to tell the court and dismiss your case
- Ask the court to set-up a payment schedule, or suggest a payment schedule for you and the court to approve
- Answer the suit. This is where the defendant gives the court a written statement setting out in clear and simple language why you shouldn't win the case. The defendant has a certain number of days to file an answer (called the answer date), which the clerk enters on your papers when you file them
- Default. If the defendant doesn't show up for trial (or "defaults"), you automatically win, so long as he was properly served with your claim and you can show the magistrate that your claim against defendant was valid
- Counterclaim, or file a claim against you. The defendant has to pay a fee for filing it, it has to be filed with the clerk before the answer date. A separate hearing or trial is usually scheduled for the counterclaim
Questions for Your Attorney
- I was just about to file a small claims suit against my former landlord to get my security deposit when I discovered that he sold the leased property. Do I still have to file my case at the Small Claims Facility where the property is located?
- How much will you charge to represent me in small claims court?
- The defendant I sued in small claims court said that I filed suit in the wrong court and the case was dismissed. Do I have to file another claim and pay another filing fee?