You've been preparing for your small claims case for a while now. You've arranged for witnesses to be at trial and you have all the receipts and other documents ready. It's getting close to the time for the magistrate of the Michigan small claims court to decide if you win or lose.
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.
When the magistrate makes a decision in the case it's called a judgment. The magistrate can 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 a few days after the trial
- After taking some time to think about the case and all of the evidence. This is called taking the case "under advisement." The magistrate will then mail a copy of the judgment to each party
If the judgment's in your favor, it will specify how much defendant has to pay, how long he has to pay it, and what may happen if he doesn't pay.
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 magistrate made a mistake, either about the facts of the case or in applying the law to the case.
In Michigan, either party can appeal a decision that was made by magistrate (or "magistrate-attorney"). However, if a district court judge decided the case, the decision is final and neither party can appeal.
You must file your appeal with the general district court within seven days after the judgment. A district court judge will hear the appeal, and a decision by the judge is final. There are forms you need to file to make an appeal, and there's a filing fee. The clerk of the district court where the small claims suit was filed can get you the forms you need and tell you the fee amounts.
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 appealing.
Motion to Reopen
Even though neither party may appeal a judgment from a district court judge, either party may ask the judge (or magistrate) to look at the case again. You do this by filing a Motion to Reopen. The judge will look at the evidence again and both you and the defendant will get another chance to explain your side of the story. Again, you have to fill-out and file forms to have the case reopened, and there may be a filing fee. The clerk of the district court can help with the forms and the amount of the fees.
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case, the judgment will state how much the defendant owes you, how long he has to pay you, and what may happen if he doesn't pay. If the defendant doesn't pay, you need to begin collection efforts. 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, so may want to talk to an attorney for help.
Dismissal and Default
If the case is dismissed because you, the plaintiff, didn't show-up for trial, and you want to sue the defendant again, you have seven days after the trial date to file a Motion to Set Aside the Dismissal and Reinstate the Cause of Action. If you're the defendant and a default judgment was entered in favor of the plaintiff because you didn't show up for trial, you have seven days after the judgment to file a Motion to Set Aside a Default Judgment. This will allow you to defend yourself against the plaintiff's claim.
A new trial date in the small claims court will be set if the magistrate grants either motion. If either motion is denied, you can appeal that decision to the general district court.
Questions For Your Attorney
- If I appeal, can I present new evidence or witnesses that I didn't have during the trial in small claims court?
- Can you represent me on an appeal from small claims judgment? How much will charge?
- Can I file a counterclaim against the plaintiff when I appeal a judgment that was entered against me in small claims court?