From the day it was filed, you've been busy preparing for the trial of a small claims case that you're involved in. Now, you're ready. 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, or maybe a justice of the peace, of a Louisiana 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 decision of the judge of a City Court (or the justice of the peace of a Justice of the Peace Court) telling you who won is called a judgment. The judge may announce the judgment:
- Immediately at the end of the case, and either give each party a copy of the judgment or send it to them in the mail, or
- After taking some time to think about the case and all of the evidence. This is called taking the case "under advisement." The court clerk will later mail a copy of the decision to you and the other party
Technically, the case is over when the judge makes a decision and it's 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 a 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:
This is when you ask a higher court to look at the case because you think there was a mistake when the decision was made. In Louisiana, you can file an appeal from a small claims case only if the case was filed in a Justice of the Peace Court. Small claims decisions from City Courts can't be appealed; the judges' decisions are final.
An appeal from a Justice of the Peace Court will go to the District Court for the parish where the small claims case was filed. To appeal, you need to file a Motion or Petition to Appeal within 15 days after the judgment was entered into the court records or after you received the judgment in the mail. Basically, this form tells the district court why you think the justice of the peace made a mistake. The clerk of the District Court or Justice of the Peace Court can give you the forms you need to file an appeal, and can explain the filing fees for an appeal.
An appeal can be a complex matter. It's a lot more formal than the small claims trial, and more stringent court rules apply. It's a good idea to talk to an attorney if you're thinking about filing an appeal.
Relief from Judgment
The plaintiff or the defendant can file a motion for relief from judgment or "motion for relief," which essentially asks the court for a new trial. This is commonly used when the defendant wants the judge or justice of the peace to void or "vacate" a default judgment - a judgment for the plaintiff that was entered because the defendant didn't file an answer or didn't show up for trial. Another common example is when a plaintiff's case is dismissed because he didn't show up for trial. In this motion, the plaintiff asks that the dismissal be vacated so that he can continue the case against the defendant.
To be successful on this type of motion, you need to "show cause," that is, have a good reason that justifies a new trial. Some examples of good cause include:
- Showing that you were missed the trial or didn't file an answer 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 returned the property he was suing over; or the plaintiff said that you didn't have to pay him or return the property, that is, he "released you from liability"
You have to file this type of motion within a certain period of time after the small claims court's decision was entered into the court records. The court clerk can tell you exactly how much time you have.
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case (or if you're the defendant and you win on a counterclaim), and the small claims court orders the defendant to pay you or turn over some personal property to you, you need to begin collection efforts if the defendant doesn't do what he's been ordered to do 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
- I sued my landlord in Justice of the Peace Court and the judge ordered him to return $800 of my $1,200 security deposit. I think I should have gotten all of it. Should I appeal?
- 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?