Your trial date in the New Jersey small claims court is fast approaching. You have all your documents and witnesses ready for the judge to decide who wins the case. Now is a good to time to know what to expect after the small claims court has seen and heard all the evidence. 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 have an idea of about some of your options.
Technically, the small claims suit is over when the when the judge makes a decision in the case, that is, decides who won. The decision is called a judgment. After the judge announces the judgment, the court clerk will enter it into the court record. If you're the plaintiff and the judge makes a decision in your favor, the judgment will include how much money the defendant owes you.
However, the judge doesn't order the defendant to pay you. All you have right now is a judgment stating that the defendant owes you money. You may have to start collection efforts to get paid.
Not Happy about the Judgment?
In New Jersey, either the plaintiff or the defendant can appeal if he doesn't agree with the judge's decision. This is when you ask a higher court to look at the case because you think the judge made a mistake, either about the facts of the case or in applying the law to the case. The court that will decide your appeal is the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.
You have to file an appeal within 45 days from the date of the small claims court's judgment. You have to complete and file several forms with the a clerk of the Appellate Division and pay various fees:
- Notice of Appeal, which essentially tells the court who you are and what you're appealing. You have to pay a $200 fee when you file this form
- Request for Transcript. Here you're asking for a copy of the written record of what happened at trial in the small claims court. You'll need three copies of the transcript. When you file the Request, you have to pay the clerk for the transcript and copying it. The clerk can tell you the amount you have to pay
- Case Information Statement. On this form you provide a brief summary of the case and the parties involved. The clerk can tell you the fee amount for filing this form
You can get all of these forms from the clerk of the Appellate Division, or you can get them online. You can even file some of the forms online.
In addition to filing these forms with the clerk of the Appellate Division, you need to deliver copies of these forms to:
- All the parties (the plaintiffs and defendants) who showed up or appeared at trial
- The clerk of the small claims court where the trial was heard
- The small claims judge who decided the case
Within 30 days of filing the Notice of Appeal, you have to deposit $300 with the Appellate Division's clerk. The court may use this money to pay settlement or court costs if you lose the appeal. If you win the appeal, the deposit will be returned to you.
As you can see, an appeal can be expensive, and it can be complicated. It's a lot more formal than the small claims trial, and more stringent court rules apply. It's a good idea to talk to an attorney if you're thinking about appealing.
Paying the Judgment
The lawsuit is finally over if neither party appeals and the:
- Defendant wins, that is, the judge decides that he doesn't owe the plaintiff anything, or
- Plaintiff wins, and the defendant pays the amount stated in the judgment
As the plaintiff, you may be fortunate and the defendant will pay you when the judge decides in your favor. Unfortunately, it's common for defendants not to pay. When this happens, plaintiffs have to try various means of collecting the money owed to them. This may include having to appear at one or more hearings and possibly even taking property that belongs to the defendants. This, too, can be a long and complicated process that may require the help of an attorney.
Questions for Your Attorney
- My 45 days to appeal is up in a few days. Is there anyway I can get an extension? If not, can you file the appeal in time?
- Can I file a counterclaim against the plaintiff when I appeal a judgment that was entered against me in small claims court?
- I lost an appeal. Is there anyway I can appeal again?