Filing a small claims complaint is simple. You go to the clerks office to get the form, which requires a brief statement and description about the incident that's the basis of your small claim. Also, the name and address of the party you're suing is required. You must give the small claims court clerk the defendant's street address. A post office box only isn't acceptable. You'll also need to tell the clerk the amount you are suing for and a brief reason why you're suing.
Court Date and Defendant Notification
After you've filed your claim, the clerk gives you a court date and notifies the defendant. The clerk "serves" a notice of your claim by sending it to the defendant. The notice of claim tells the defendant when to appear in small claims court and includes a brief statement of your claim and the amount of money you're requesting. It's sent by certified mail and ordinary first class mail.
If the notice sent by ordinary first class mail isn't returned by the post office within 21 days as undeliverable, the defendant is presumed to have received notice of your claim, even if the notice of claim sent by certified mail hasn't been delivered.
Service of Claim on Defendant
If the post office can't deliver the notice of your claim, the court clerk will give you a new hearing date and will tell you how to arrange for personal delivery of the notice to the defendant. For example, the defendant may have moved without leaving a forwarding address. Anyone who isn't a party to the small claim and over 18 years of age, including a friend or relative, can personally deliver the notice of claim to the defendant. The claimant or any other party to the action may not serve the notice of claim personally on the defendant.
If the notice of your claim isn't served on the defendant within four months after you filed your claim, it will be dismissed. You can file the claim again if you learn new information about the defendant's location. A small claims case won't continue to trial until the defendant has been served with a notice of your claim.
Correct Name and Address of Defendant
When you file your small claim, you must give the court clerk the name and address of the person or business you want to sue. You can obtain the correct or "legal" name of a business by contacting the office of the county clerk in the county where the business is located. You don't need to know the correct or legal name of a business or a person who operates a business to file your claim.
You can provide any name used by the business or by the person who operates the business. If you learn the defendant's correct or legal name later, you can give it to the small claims court clerk before your trial or during your trial. However, if you get a judgment against a business it will be easier to collect if you know the correct legal name.
Where to File a Small Claims Case
Generally, a small claims case is filed in the county where the defendant lives or does business.
The filing fee is $15.00 if you suing for $1,000 or less. It's $20.00 if you are suing for more than $1,000. You can use a personal check or credit card for the filing fee in some courts. You can call the court where you want to file the small claim and ask ahead of time.
If you or any of your witnesses will need an interpreter during your court hearing, tell the small claims clerk when you file your small claim. The clerk will arrange to have an "official" interpreter available for you or your witnesses at the time of your hearing.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What is "service" and how is it done?
- Can an attorney assist me with filling out my claim forms?
- Do I have to appear in court and what happens if I can't make it?