Do you have a customer who refuses to pay you for the repairs you made to her car? Or maybe the roofer you paid didn't finish the work? These are some examples of the types of claims or disputes that are resolved by the New Mexico small claims courts, or "magistrate courts."

And, now that you've decided that you have to file a lawsuit to get your money, or have your property returned, 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 (the "plaintiff") file a small claims case with the clerk of the appropriate:

Generally, you file the case in the court that serves the area or county where:

  • The person you're suing lives (he's called the "defendant"), or
  • You live, or
  • Where you can "find" the defendant, such as the county where he works, or
  • Where the incident you're suing over happened, which is called where your "cause of action arose." For example, if you're suing to get money for personal injuries you suffered in a car accident with the defendant, you may file in the court for the area where the accident happened

For the most part, small claims cases are filed in magistrate courts: There are 54 of them, and each of the state's county is served by one. However, in densely populated areas, you may need to file in a metro court. You should check the telephone listings or with the local courthouse to see which type of court serves the area where you need to file the lawsuit.

If you don't file the lawsuit in the right court, the defendant can ask the court to move the case to the proper court or even ask 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.

Civil Complaint and Summons

Lawsuits begin when the plaintiff files a "complaint." In the New Mexico small claims courts, there's a special form called the "Civil Complaint." The form provides space for you to explain why you're suing and what you want - how money or what specific property you want, for example. If you need help completing it, the clerk can offer some assistance, but don't expect legal advice about your lawsuit.

Generally, the Summons tells the defendant that he has 20 days to file an "Answer" to your complaint, that is, either agree that he owes you or challenge your suit. An Answer form will be sent to the defendant along with the Complaint and Summons. The court clerk will schedule a trial after the defendant files an Answer.

When filling out the Complaint, you need to give information about your 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, or a description of the property you want returned to you
  • Reasons why the defendant owes you money, or why the property rightfully belongs to you

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 business or occupational license agency in the city or county where the business is located to get the legal names and addresses for the business and its owner. The local Better Business Bureau (BBB) may be help, too
  • A corporation, you can get its exact name and address from New Mexico's Public Regulation Commission (PRC). 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 defendants. Again the PRC or local business or occupational license agency or BBB should be able to help you get that information

Get the right form! In New Mexico, there are different forms for a magistrate court civil complaint and metropolitan court civil complaint.

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