Generally, the judge's decision will be announced at the end of a small claims trial. The judgment will specify which side prevailed and if money damages are being awarded and the amount of those damages.
Sometimes the judge will want to take additional time to review the evidence or research case law before entering a judgment. After judgment is entered, the plaintiff becomes the judgment creditor and the defendant becomes the judgment debtor.
If the defendant loses the case and doesn't file an appeal, the court will issue an execution stating the judgment entered against the defendant. The execution is then sent to the plaintiff or the plaintiff's attorney if there is one.
Appeal the Judgment
The plaintiff gives up the right to appeal by using small claims court. There is a waiver of the right to appeal on the small claims form that is signed by the plaintiff or the plaintiff's attorney. A plaintiff can appeal only an adverse decision on a counterclaim.
If the defendant loses the case, the defendant may appeal to the superior court for a new trial. However, the defendant can't appeal an adverse decision on a counterclaim. The appeal must be filed in writing with the small claims clerk within two days, not including weekends and legal holidays. Detailed instructions for filing a small claims appeal are available from the clerk of small claims court.
Payment of Judgment
If you are the judgment debtor and you aren't planning on filing an appeal, you should make payment arrangements with the judgment creditor or the judgment creditor's attorney right away. If the debtor doesn't pay the judgment after the court sets a payment schedule, the creditor can obtain a contempt citation from the court. The constable or sheriff will serve it on the debtor.
The contempt citation will require the debtor to appear in court to explain why payments have not been made as ordered by the court. The debtor may be able to get out of contempt by making certain payments. The court may send the debtor to prison if it finds the contempt was of such a nature as to be in total disregard of the court's order.
If the debtor fails to appear in court to answer a contempt citation, a body attachment could be issued by the court directing a constable or sheriff to take the debtor into custody and bring the debtor before the court.
If the defendant didn't appear in court on the trial date and a judgment was entered against the defendant, the plaintiff may do the following:
- With permission of the court, attach the defendant's wages
- Without the permission of the court, levy on the defendant's automobile or other personal assets or on real estate
- Make a demand for payment and if the defendant refuses, bring the defendant into court to determine ability to pay
If the debtor doesn't appear in court after being served a citation to allow the court to determine ability to pay, the court may find the debtor in contempt.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I didn't receive a final judgment at my trial or in the mail and it's been 30 days since my small claims trial - what should I do?
- What happens if the defendant doesn't appear at the trial?
- How long does it generally take to get the judge's decision by mail if the judgment wasn't announced at the trial?