Generally, the judge's decision will be announced at the end of a small claims trial. However, sometimes the judge will want to take additional time to review the evidence or research case law before entering a final judgment. When this occurs, the parties will receive a copy of the final judgment in the mail.
Whenever you lose in court, you have the right to request the court to reconsider its decision and you have the right to appeal the decision to a higher court. In most cases you have 30 days or less from the date of the judge's decision to exercise these rights or you may lose your right to reconsideration or appeal.
Motion to Reconsider
If you want the judge to reconsider your case, you must file a notice of motion and a motion to reconsider. Your motion should explain why the judgment was wrong based on the evidence presented at trial or the law. You must ask the circuit clerk's office to schedule a time and date for hearing on your motion. A copy of your notice and motion must be mailed to the other parties in the case.
At your hearing on the motion you will need to explain why you believe the prior decision was wrong. If the judge grants your motion, the matter may be set for another trial. If the judge denies your motion, you may file an appeal within 30 days of the judge's decision.
If you lose at the trial court, you can appeal to the appellate court. Appellate courts review trial court cases to correct legal or factual errors. If the trial judge's decision was in error, the appellate court can enter judgment in your favor or send your case back for a new trial. Appeals aren't easy, so you may want to get an attorney before you take this route.
An appeal is not another trial in a different court. Appellate courts don't do trials, they just review trial court decisions.
You start an appeal by filing a notice of appeal at the circuit clerk's office. You've got to do that within 30 days of the judge's decision. If you miss that deadline, the judge's decision is final and you can't appeal. The clerk then notifies the appellate court about your appeal.
Appeals are done entirely on paper. The appellate court reviews a copy of the trial court file. Even if you believe there's some fact, document or witness that should be considered but wasn't presented to the trial court, you will not be able to bring these up. You're stuck with the existing court record and you may not add anything to it.
Many appeals get dismissed because people don't comply with the appellate court's filing requirements. You must file a "docketing statement," which is a summary of your case. Once the complete record gets filed, you need to submit your legal brief, the other side's brief and your reply.
After that come the oral arguments. You present those in person to three appellate judges who decide your case. It's their chance to ask questions about your case.
Some time after oral arguments, the appellate court sends out its written decision. They can affirm or agree with the decision of the small claims court, they can reverse the decision or they can remand the case back to the small claims court for a new trial. The whole process takes approximately six months.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Do I need to have an attorney to file an appeal?
- If my case is remanded does that mean I get a new trial?
- How long does it generally take to get the judge's decision by mail if the judgment wasn't announced at the trial?