You've been getting ready for your small claims case for a while now. You've arranged for your witnesses to be at trial and you have all of your papers and photographs documents organized. You're ready for a Massachusetts small claims court, or "people's court," to decide if you win or lose.
Now that you're ready, it'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.
After all the testimony and evidence has been presented, the judge will make a decision in the case, that is, announce who won. The decision 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 before they leave the courthouse or send it to them 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" or "under advisement." The court clerk will mail a copy of the decision to each party later
Technically, the case is over when the judge makes a decision and the decision is 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 Missouri, 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 should have awarded you more money, then you may appeal. The appeal will be decided by the circuit court for the county where the small claims court was decided.
You have to file an appeal within 10 days after the judge decided the case. You do this by filing a Notice of Appeal, which is a sworn statement detailing why a judge or jury needs to hear the case. You also have to pay a fee when you file it, and sometimes other costs as well. The circuit court clerk can give you the forms you need to file an appeal as well as explain the current fees.
An appeal can be a complex matter. It's a lot more formal than the small claims trial, and more complicated 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 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
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case (or if you're the defendant and you won on a counterclaim or set-off), and the judge decides that the defendant has to pay you or return some property to you, you need to begin collection efforts if the defendant doesn't do so. 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.
- Can I file a counterclaim against the plaintiff when I appeal judgment that was entered against me in small claims court?