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NE What is Small Claims Court

In Nebraska, small claims court is a division of county court and the hearings are conducted by a county judge. Small claims court provides a prompt and inexpensive way to resolve minor disputes. The amount owed or dollar value of property must not be more than $2,700.

Court procedure is informal and without a jury. You can't be represented by an attorney in small claims court; however, you are allowed to seek an attorney's advice about your case. Small claims court is limited to civil (non-criminal) actions involving disputes over amounts of money owed, damage to property or seeking the return of personal property.

The person or business that files a claim to sue another is called the plaintiff. The person or business that is sued is called the defendant.

Parties in Small Claims Actions

An individual, partnership, corporation, union association or any other kind of organization or entity can be a plaintiff or a defendant in a small claims action. However, a small claim can't be filed against certain military personnel. Under the Soldier's Relief Act some military personnel are exempt.

An individual must represent himself or herself in a small claims action. A partnership can be represented by a partner or an employee. A corporation may be represented by an officer or employee of the corporation. A union, association or other organization may be represented by a member or an employee.

Where to File a Small Claims Case

Small Claims cases can be filed in the county where the defendant resides or is doing business or in the county where the legal dispute occurred. A corporation resides where it does business or has an agent.

Limit to Claims Allowed per Year

Except for merchants claiming a loss due to shoplifting, no one may file more than two complaints in a calendar week nor more than ten complaints in a calendar year.

Appeals

If either party is dissatisfied with the decision of the court, the case can be appealed within 30 days after the entry of judgment. The district court judge will make a decision on the appeal by reviewing the record of the county court case.

Cases Suitable for Small Claims Court

Many different kinds of cases go to small claims court. The most common cases involve:

  • Car accidents
  • Property damage
  • Landlord/tenant disputes

Any type of claim may be filed in Small Claims Court as long as the loss can be measured in dollars and the amount does not exceed $2,700. Typical Small Claims lawsuits include a landlord-tenant dispute over the damage deposit, a consumer complaint against a mechanic or repairman or a dispute arising from an automobile accident or a contract. No party may file more than two cases within a calendar week, nor more than ten claims a year in Small Claims Court.

Statute of Limitations

Under the law, there are limits on how long you have to bring any lawsuit. These limits are called "statute of limitations." Most cases must be filed within two or three years of the time when it was first possible to sue, but some cases must be filed sooner and some cases may be filed later.

Court Costs

You will have to pay certain fees when you file your case. If you win your case, the judge may order the defendant to reimburse you for your court costs.

Counterclaims and Setoffs

When the defendant receives notice of the small claims filing, he or she may file a "counterclaim" or "setoff" with the court. A counterclaim is a statement filed by the defendant claiming the plaintiff owes money or property to the defendant. A setoff is an admission by the defendant that some money is owed to the plaintiff but it is also a claim that the plaintiff owes money to the defendant.

If the defendant wishes to file a counterclaim or setoff, the clerk of the county court will be able to provide the proper forms. The defendant must provide a concise statement of why the money is owed by the plaintiff. The defendant must file the counterclaim or setoff with the court and have notice served on the plaintiff at least two days prior to the time of trial. If the setoff or counterclaim is for more than $2,700, the case will be transferred to regular county court.

Transfer of Cases from Small Claims Court

A defendant may remove the case from small claims court and have it considered as a regular civil case in county court. The defendant or defendant's attorney must request the transfer at least two days before the hearing time and must pay the difference in fees between the small claims court and regular county court.

A plaintiff is not permitted to object to the transfer. After the transfer, both the defendant and the plaintiff may have a lawyer represent them during the trial. A defendant who wants a jury trial must ask for a jury trial at the time the transfer is requested.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • If my claim is for just over the dollar limit, should I still file a lawsuit in small claims court?
  • Will an attorney assist me with my small claims case even though I can't be represented by one in small claims court?
  • Can I sue a federal agency in small claims court?
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