Do you have a customer who refuses to pay you for the repairs you made to her car? Or maybe the roofer you hired didn't finish the work? These are the kinds of legal claims or disputes that are settled by the Minnesota conciliation or "small claims" courts.

And, now that you're ready to file a small claims lawsuit, you need to know the mechanics of what to do and how to do it. In general, you have to know exactly who you're suing, have the right paperwork, and file the suit in the right court.

Where to File

You file a small claims case with the clerk of the appropriate district court. In Minnesota, there's a district court for each county, but most district courts cover more than one county. You need to file your lawsuit in the district court for the county where the:

  • Defendant lives. The "defendant" is the person you're suing
  • Checks were written, if your case involves "bad checks"
  • Real property or land is located, if your case is a landlord-tenant dispute
  • Corporation has its business or branch office, if you're suing a corporation

If there's a written contract involved, like a lease or sales agreement, check it to see if it states exactly where any lawsuit must be filed.

If you don't file the lawsuit in the right court, the defendant can ask the court to move the case to the proper district, or even to dismiss or "throw out" the case. This can slow things down for you. So, if you're unsure about where to file your suit, contact the clerk's office for your area for some help.

Statement of Claim and Summons

Lawsuits begin when the plaintiff, the person who's suing, files a "complaint." In the Minnesota small claims courts, there's a special form called the Statement of Claim and Summons. The form is straightforward and self-explanatory, and some instructions are attached to it. If you need additional help, the clerk can give you some assistance, but don't expect legal advice about your suit.

When filling out the form, you need to give information about your case in a clear and simple way. Print neatly and just give the facts about your claim. Specifically, you'll need to give:

  • Your name, address and a telephone number where you can be contacted during the day
  • The defendant's name and address
  • The amount of money you want the defendant to pay, or what property you want him to turnover to you
  • Reasons why the defendant owes you money, or why the property is rightfully yours

It's very important that you have the proper name and address of the party you're suing. If you're suing:

  • A business that's not a corporation, like a sole proprietorship or a "dba" (meaning "doing business as"), you should contact the business or occupational license office or agency in the city or county where the business is located. That office should be able to tell you the legal names and addresses for the business and its owner
  • A corporation, you can get its exact name and address from Minnesota's Secretary of State. You'll also find the name of the company's "registered agent," the person who accepts important documents for the corporation
  • A partnership, you should list the name of the partnership as well as the individual partners as defendants. Again the Secretary of State can help you get that information for some partnerships, or you can try the local Better Business Bureau (BBB) for this information

In Minnesota, you need to sign your Statement in the presence of the court clerk, or you need to have it notarized.

Filing Fees

At the time you file your forms, you will need to pay your filing fees. In Minnesota, the fees are different for each county, but generally you can expect to pay between $40 and $80 to file your Statement of Claims. Be sure to ask the court clerk about the specific fee amount.

Generally, if you win your case, the conciliation or small claims court will order the other party to pay your filing fee (called "court costs"). This will be in addition to any other money or "damages" the court awards you on your claim.

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