You've been preparing for your small claims case for a while now, and 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 of a Maine 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 so you can plan your next steps.
After the judge has seen all of the evidence and has heard both sides of the story, he'll make a decision in the case, that is, announce who won. The decision is called a judgment. The judgment may be made:
- Immediately at the end of the case, and the judge will arrange for each party to get a copy of it before leaving the courthouse or send it to you both in the mail
- After taking some time to think about the case and all of the evidence. This is called taking the case "under consideration." The judge will then mail a copy of the decision to each 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 the judge made a mistake when he decided the case. In Maine, either the plaintiff or the defendant may appeal. So, if you're the plaintiff and you won, the defendant may appeal; if you think the judge didn't award you enough money, then you may appeal. The appeal will be decided by the superior court for the town or county where the small claims case was decided.
You have to file an appeal within 30 days after the judgment is entered into the court records. The copy of the judgment you get from the small claims court will give you the deadline. You need to file a Notice of Appeal with the clerk of the district court where the small claims case was decided, and you need to pay a $150 filing fee.
If you're the defendant and you want to appeal, you may request a jury trial. To do so, you have to explain why you're appealing in the Notice, that is, why you think the judge made a mistake. You also have to attach to the Notice an affidavit, which is a sworn statement stating that there's an important question about the facts of the case that needs to be settled by a jury. You'll also have to pay the clerk of the superior court a $300 fee in addition to the $150 filing fee.
An appeal can be a complex matter. It's a lot more formal than the small claims trial, and more complicated court rules and procedures are used. It's a good idea to talk to an attorney if you're thinking about appealing.
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 to void or "vacate" a default judgment - a judgment for the plaintiff that was entered because the defendant failed to show up for trial. Another common example is when a plaintiff's case was dismissed because he didn't show up for trial. In the motion he'll ask the judge to vacate the dismissal so that he can continue the case against 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 unable to attend the first trial 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 the plaintiff released you from liability on the claim
Generally, you have to file the motion within one year after the judgment was entered by the judge.
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case, and the judge orders the defendant to pay all or some of your claim, you'll 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
- I sued my landlord 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?
- I won my small claims case and the defendant filed a Notice of Appeal. Can I challenge or fight his request for an appeal? I don't think he has a good reason for the appeal.
- I want to appeal my small claims case but I don't think I can get the Notice filed and the money together in 30 days. Can I get a time extension to file an appeal?