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MN After Small Claims Court

You've been busy preparing for your small claims case for a while now. You've arranged for your witnesses to be at trial and you have all the receipts, bills and other papers organized. It's getting close to the time for the judge or referee of a Minnesota conciliation court, or "small claims court, to make a decision.

Now's a good time to get an idea of what to expect after the trial, or "hearing," 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

It's the beginning of the end of the case when the judge makes a decision in the case, that is, decides who won. The decision is called a judgment. The judge 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. In Minnesota, it's rare for a judge or referee to make a decision immediately
  • After taking some time to think about the case and all of the evidence. This is called taking the case "under consideration" or "under advisement." The court clerk will mail a copy of the decision to each party. This is very common in Minnesota

Technically, the case is over when the judge makes a decision and the decision is entered into the court records by the 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.

The form you'll get in the mail is called a Notice of Judgment. Read it carefully. It will tell you:

  • How much you won, if anything
  • When the judgment becomes effective, which usually is 20 days after the Notice was mailed

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 or "Removal"

This is when you ask a higher court to look at the case because you think the judge or referee made a mistake when she decided the case. Either the plaintiff or the defendant may appeal the judge's decision (it's called "removing" the case in Minnesota). You have to ask that the case be removed within 20 days after the Notice of Judgment was mailed. You do this by filing out:

  • A Demand for Removal
  • An Affidavit of Good Faith, and
  • An Affidavit of Service

The court clerk can give you these forms, or you can get some of them online. There are some instructions to help you complete them, and court clerk can give you some help as well. Also, there are filing fees for each of these forms; the court clerk can tell you the specific amounts.

If you remove the case and you don't win, you'll have to pay the other party $50 for costs, unless:

  • You win your case on appeal and get either 50% of what you asked for or more than $500 in money or goods, whichever is less
  • The other party wins some amount in conciliation court but nothing in district court on appeal
  • You get 50% more on appeal than you got in conciliation court or at least $500 in money or goods, whichever is less
  • On appeal, the court reduces the amount that the other party has to pay you by at least $500 or 50%, whichever is less

The appeal will be a whole new trial, and it will be decided by the regular district court. It will be more complex than the small claims hearing because it will be a lot more formal and more complicated rules apply. Also, either the plaintiff or the defendant may ask for a jury trial by filing a "Jury Trial Demand" and paying an additional fee. It's a good idea to talk to anattorney if you're thinking about filing an appeal.

Relief from Judgment

The plaintiff or the defendant can file an application for, or "motion" to, vacate the judgment, which essentially asks the conciliation 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 asks the judge to vacate the dismissal 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 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
  • You weren't given the proper notice of the plaintiff's lawsuit, that is, you weren't properly "served" with a copy of the plaintiff's Statement of Claim and Summons

The court clerk can give you the forms you need to file the motion, as well as tell you about any fees for filing it.

You have to file this motion within the 20-day period that begins on the date that the Notice of Judgment was mailed. If the court grants the motion, you'll be notified by mail about the date and time of the new trial.

Plaintiff Collects

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 need to begincollection 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. The same is true if you're the defendant and you win on a counterclaim. Collecting on the judgment is often complicated, and may require the help of an attorney.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I won my small claims case and the defendant said he was going to appeal. Can I challenge or fight his request for an appeal? I don't think he has a good reason for the 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 the judgment that was entered against me in the conciliation court?
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