The first step in filing a small claims action is obtaining and filling out the necessary forms. You will need to go the circuit clerk's office at the courthouse in your county and ask the clerk for a standard form small claim complaint and a small claim summons. If you are filing the complaint, you are the plaintiff. The person you are suing is the defendant.
Fill out an original and three copies of each form. After you are finished filling out those forms, file them with the clerk and pay the standard filing fee. You will then need to notify the defendant of the suit.
A complaint is a paper explaining whom you are suing, where the person lives, how much money they owe you and why they owe you the money. As the plaintiff, you'll sign the complaint, and the statement is sworn to before a notary public or clerk of the court.
The statement of claim form requests:
- Your name and address
- The name and address of the party you are suing
- The amount you are claiming in the suit
- Reasons why the other party owes you money
At the time you file the complaint form, you must have the proper name and address of the defendant. The clerk won't help you find that out. If the papers can't be delivered to the defendant, you might have to start over and pay additional fees.
If the defendant is a corporation, you must serve an officer of the corporation or the registered agent. You can find this information out by checking a book called the Corporation Index in the small claims office or by calling the Corporate Search Department of the Illinois Secretary of State.
Attach copies of any relevant documents such as receipts, estimates, bills or agreements to the complaint.
A summons is a pre-printed legal document supplied by the small claim clerk that notifies the defendant of the lawsuit. The court has no power to hear a case until the defendant is served the summons. Along with the summons, the defendant receives a copy of the complaint telling the reason for the suit and the amount claimed.
Where to File
Small claims cases should be filed with the clerk of court in the appropriate county. You should file your claim in the county where:
- The person you are suing lives
- The event that caused you to file a complaint occurred
A corporation is considered to reside in any county where it does business or has an office. Filing the claim in the wrong county won't cause the case to be dismissed or thrown out, but may result in unnecessary court costs, delay and a transfer of the case to the correct county. If you are unsure of where to file, then file the complaint where the person you are suing lives.
Filing the Complaint and Summons
You'll have to pay a filing fee at the time you file your complaint and summons with the circuit clerk and if you want a jury trial, you must demand one at the time you file your complaint. You'll have to pay an additional charge for a jury trial. If you don't request a jury, a judge will decide your case.
Setting a Court Date
You should set a court date, which is also called a return date, when you file your forms. Your court date should be set for not less than 14 nor more than 40 days after the issuance of the summons.
Send a Copy of Complaint to Opposing Party
Copies of the forms must then be "served on" or delivered to the defendant. When you file your complaint, the clerk will ask you how you want the person you are suing notified. If the person you're suing lives in the county in which you're filing your complaint, you can send notice by certified mail. You'll have to pay an additional charge for this. If the person you're suing doesn't live in the county where you file your complaint, you'll have to have the sheriff of the county where the person you're suing lives serve him with a copy of the complaint.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What is "service" and how is it done?
- Can an attorney assist me with filling out my claim forms?
- What should I do if I can't make the court date that I set when I filed my complaint?