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IN After Small Claims Court

For some time now you've been working hard at preparing for the trial of your small claims case. You've arranged for your witnesses to be at trial and you have all the receipts and other documents ready. It's getting close to the time for the judge of the Indiana 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.

Judgment

The judgment is when the judge makes a decision in the case, that is, decides who won. The judge may make the decision:

  • 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 later
  • After taking some time to think about the case and all of the evidence. This is called taking the case "under advisement." The judge will then mail a copy of the decision to each party, usually within one or two weeks after the trial

Technically, the case is over when the judge 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, depending on whether either party thinks the judge made or mistake or whether the winner gets paid.

Not Happy about the Judgment?

Win or lose, you may have some options if you don't like the way the case turned out:

Appeal

This is when you ask a higher court to look at the case because you think the judge made a mistake. In Indiana, either party can appeal. So, if you're the plaintiff and you won, but you think the judge didn't award you enough money, you may appeal. Likewise, the defendant may appeal. The appeal will be heard by the Indiana Court of Appeals, unless you're in Marion County, in which case the appeal will be heard by the Superior Court for that county.

You have to file an appeal within 30 days after the judgment is entered into the court record, which is usually the same day that the judge makes the decision. In Marion County, you have to file an appeal within 60 days after the judgment. You file an appeal by completing a Notice of Appeal, which is a sworn statement detailing why the court needs to hear the case. You also have to pay a filing fee and other costs. The clerk of the court where the small claims court was filed can tell you about the fees and the filing process.

An appeal can be a complex matter. It's a lot more formal than the small claims trial, and more complicated court rules apply. It's a good idea to talk to an attorney if you're thinking about appealing.

Dismissal and Default

If you're the plaintiff and your suit was dismissed without prejudice because you didn't show up for trial, you can re-file your suit by filing a new Notice of Claim and paying a new filing fee. If you don't show up for trial a second time, your suit will be dismissed with prejudice and you can never file your claim again.

If you're the defendant and the plaintiff was granted a "default judgment" because you didn't show up for trial, you can file a "Motion to Vacate Default Judgment." If the court grants your Motion, a new trial will be scheduled and you'll be given the chance to challenge the plaintiff's claim. You have to file the motion within one year after the default judgment was entered into the court record, and you have to show a good reason why you didn't appear for trial, such as illness. The same is true if you're the plaintiff and the defendant was granted a default judgment on his counterclaim because you didn't show up for trial.

Plaintiff Collects

If you're the plaintiff and you win the case (or you're the defendant and you win on a counterclaim), and the judge 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

  • The small claims court denied my Motion to Vacate Default Judgment. Can I appeal that decision?
  • How much will you charge to represent me on an appeal from small claims judgment?
  • Can I file a counterclaim against the plaintiff when I appeal judgment that was entered against me in small claims court?
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