Do you have a customer who refuses to pay you for the repairs you made to her car? Or did you give a roofer a down payment, but he never started the job? These are just a couple of examples of the types of claims or disputes that are resolved by a Missouri small claims courts, or the "people's court."
And, now that you've decided that the only way you're going to get your money is to file a lawsuit, you need to know the mechanics of what to do and how to do it. In general, you have to 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 circuit court. Each county (and the City of St. Louis) has a circuit court, and small claims cases are heard by a special part or "division" of each circuit court. Generally, you should file your suit in the circuit court for the county where:
- The defendant lives (this is the person you're suing). If you're suing more than one defendant, you may file in the county where any one of them lives
- The incident you're suing over occurred. For example, if you're suing to get money for injuries you suffered in a car accident, you may file in the county where accident happened
- You live, so long as the defendant may be found in that county, such as when he works in that county or has a business office there
- The defendant or its "registered agent" has an office. Registered agents are persons selected by businesses, usually corporations, to accept important papers for the business, including legal documents
If you don't file the lawsuit in the right circuit court, the defendant can ask the court to move the case to the proper district or that the case be dismissed or "thrown out" of court. 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.
Petition Small Claim Court
Lawsuits begin when the plaintiff, the person who's suing, files a "complaint." In the Missouri small claims courts, there's a special form called the "Petition Small Claims Court." The clerk can give you the form, or you can get one online. The form is self-explanatory and straight-forward, but if you need 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 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
- Reasons why the defendant owes you money
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 Occupational Licenses office or agency in the city or county where the business is located to get the legal names and addresses for the business and its owner. Your local Better Business Bureau (BBB) may be able to help as well
- A corporation, you can get its exact name and address from Missouri's Secretary of State office. 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 partners. Again check with the Secretary of State, Occupational Licenses office, or local BBB to get this information
In Missouri, you can file your Petition in person or by mail.
At the time you file your forms, you will need to pay your filing fees. In Missouri, the fees vary from court to court and are based upon the amount of money you're suing for. However, you should expect to pay between $20 and $100 for filing the Petition. Ask the court clerk for details about the fees in your area.
Generally, if you win your case, the 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.