You've been busy getting ready for your small claims case practically since the day it was filed. All of your cancelled checks, receipts and photographs are organized and ready for the judge to look at, and you've arranged for all of your witnesses to be in the courtroom. You're finally ready for the New Hampshire small claims court to decide who wins and loses.
Now'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 lawsuit) or the defendant (the person who's being sued), you should know about some of your options.
After hearing all of the testimony and seeing all of the evidence, the judge will make a decision in the case, that is, declare who won. The decision is called a judgment. The judge may announce the decision:
- Immediately at the end of the case, and either give each party a copy of the judgment before they leave the courthouse or have it sent 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 it's 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. In New Hampshire, 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. Appeals are heard by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
You have to file an appeal within 30 days after the judgment was made, and you do this by filling a Notice of Appeal with the clerk of the supreme court. Basically, this form tells the court, and the other party, why you think the judge of the small claims court made a mistake and what you want the supreme court to do. For example, you may want the court to award you more money or to decide that you don't owe anything at all. When you file the Notice, you have to pay a $150 filing fee. The Clerk of the Supreme Court can get you the forms you need to file an appeal, or you can get one online.
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 win on counterclaim), and the judge orders the defendant to pay all or some of your claim, you need to begin collection 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. 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?