You didn't waste any time getting ready for trial, and now you're set. You've organized all the important papers you need, like receipts and canceled checks, and you've talked with your witnesses and they're ready to be on court to help you prove your case. You're ready for the magistrate of a New Mexico small claims court (or "magistrate court") to decide who wins.
Now that your ready, it's the perfect 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 so you can plan your next steps.
It's the beginning of the end of the case when the magistrate makes a decision on who wins and who loses. The decision is called a judgment. The magistrate can 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 later
- 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
Technically, the case is over when the judge makes a decision and the clerk enters it into the court records. 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 magistrate made a mistake when he decided the case. In New Mexico, 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 magistrate should have awarded you more money, then you may appeal. The appeal will be decided by the district court of the county where the small claims case was decided.
You have to file an appeal within 15 days after the magistrate decided the case. You do this by filing a Notice of Appeal, which basically tells the court and the other party why you think the magistrate made a mistake. You also have to pay a fee when you file it, and sometimes other costs as well. The clerk of the magistrate court (or metropolitan court, if your small claims case was heard there), or the clerk of the district court can give you the forms you need and tell you about 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. 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 told you that you didn't have to pay him (called "releasing you from liability")
This Motion can also be used to correct clerical or typographical errors in the judgment. For example, if the magistrate said, in court, that the defendant had to pay you $9,500, but the written judgment states the amount as $950, you can file this Motion to have the judgment corrected.
Generally, you have to file the motion within one year after the judgment was entered by the magistrate. The clerk of the small claims court can get you the forms you need to file this motion.
Dismissal and Default
If the other party got a "default judgment" because you didn't show up for trial, you may be able defend yourself after you file a Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment. It has to be filed within 30 days after the default judgment was made. And, you have to show a good reason why you didn't appear at trial, such as illness. If the judge grants your motion, a new trial will be scheduled.
If your Complaint was dismissed with prejudice, you can't file your claim again without the court's permission. If was dismissed without prejudice, you can file a new Complaint without the court's permission, but you have to pay filing fees again.
Usually, if you're the plaintiff and you don't show up for trial, your Complaint will be dismissed with prejudice. If you have a good reason why you missed the trial, though, you may be able to re-file your Complaint if you file and the magistrate grants a motion for relief from judgment. You should check with the clerk of the small claims court for details on your options here.
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case (or if you're the defendant and you win on a counterclaim), and the magistrate orders the defendant to pay you (or to return the property you sued for), you need to begin collection efforts if the defendant doesn't follow 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 magistrate 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?