Is your former landlord refusing to return your security deposit? Or maybe a customer won't pay for the repairs you made to her car? These are just a couple of examples of the types of claims or disputes that are resolved by the Utah small claims court. This is where ordinary people can settle their disputes quickly and without the expense of hiring an attorney.
And, now that you're ready to file a small claims lawsuit, 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 file a small claims case with clerk of the justice court or district court in your area. This could be a municipal or "city" court, county court, or district court, depending on where you live. There are eight judicial districts, and each one covers more than one county.
You have to file suit either where the defendant lives or where your claim arose. The county where the car accident happened, or if your suing a landlord, the county where the property is located, are good examples of where the "claim arose." Also, if your suit involves a written contract, read it carefully because it may say where exactly any suit must be filed.
If you don't file the lawsuit in the right court, the defendant can ask that the case be moved to the proper court. The case might also 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.
Cover Sheet and Affidavit and Summons
Lawsuits begin when the plaintiff, the person who's suing, files a "complaint." In the Utah small claims court, you begin the lawsuit by filing two forms, the:
- Cover Sheet, where you give basic identification information about you and the defendant, such as names, addresses, telephone numbers, and Social Security numbers
- Affidavit and Summons. This is the "complaint," where you explain why the defendant owes you money and how much. The "summons" part of the form tells the defendant that you've filed suit against him and orders him to appear for trial
When filling out the Affidavit, give information about the case in a clear and simple may. Type or print the information, and just give the facts about your claim. If the clerk can't read the Affidavit she may not let you file the case, and you'll have to start over again.
Also, it's very important that you have the defendant's proper name and address. If you're suing a business, such as a corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship, the Utah Department of Commerce can help you find the proper names and addresses for the business and its registered agent (the person who needs to get a copy of your lawsuit so that you can sue the business).
You need to sign the Affidavit in the presence of the court clerk or a notary public, and it must be notarized.
The Utah small claims courts like when plaintiffs file copies of their evidence along with the Affidavit. So, if you're going to rely on contacts, receipts, cancelled checks, estimates, or other documents, try to make copies and file them so the court can review them before the trial.
At the time you file your forms, you will need to pay your filing fees. In Utah, the fee is $45 if your claim is for $2,000 or less, and $70 if your claim over $2,000. If you can't afford the filing fee, you can file an "Affidavit of Fee Waiver" and give information about your finances. If you qualify, you won't have to pay the filing fee. The Waiver form is available at the clerk's office.
Generally, if you win your case, the small claims court will order the defendant to pay your filing fee (called "court costs"). This will be in addition to any other money or "damages" the court awards you on your claim.
Service of Process
"Service of process" is when one party gives the other party notice that he's being sued. Generally, this is done by making sure that the defendant gets a copy of the Affidavit and Summons that you filed. In Utah, it's your responsibility to make sure that the Affidavit is "served on" (delivered to) the defendant at least 30 days before the trial date. This can be done by:
- Mailing it registered or certified mail, with return receipt requested. Here, the defendant has to sign for the letter when he receives it and you'll get a notice ("return receipt") when he's done so
- Delivering a copy to a sheriff, constable, or a process server who will hand-deliver it to the defendant. There's a charge for this, which the court clerk, sheriff, or other officer can tell you about
Make sure you have the defendant's right address! If the Affidavit and Summons can't be served, your case can't go forward. You may need to file your case in another court, which can be much more costly and complicated.
Once you've filed suit, the defendant can do any number of things, such as:
- Settle the claim, that is, simply agree that he owes you money and pay you. If the case is settled before trial and you're paid, you need to complete and file a "Motion to Dismiss," which you can get from the court clerk
- Answer the suit. This is where the defendant shows up at trial and defends himself against your claim
- Default. If the defendant doesn't show up for trial (or "defaults"), you automatically win, so long as he got the Affidavit and Summons and you can show the judge that your claim against defendant was valid
- File a Counter Affidavit claiming that you owe him money, up to $7,500. The defendant has to pay a fee for filing it, it has to be filed with the clerk at least 15 days before trial, and you have to be given a copy of it to give you time to prepare. If you need more time, you can ask for a continuance
- Ask for a continuance, which postponing the trial to another day. The request has to be writing and there must be a good reason for it, such as illness
Questions for Your Attorney
- I filed a small claims suit against a dog owner, who lives on the next street over from me, because her dog bit me. She says that she never received "notice," but I know the complaint was mailed to the right address. What can I do now?
- How much will charge me to fill out the Affidavit and Summons and represent me in small claims court?
- The defendant I sued in small claims court said that I filed suit in the wrong district and the case was moved to another court. Do I have to file another Affidavit and Summons and pay another filing fee?
Related Resources on Lawyers.comsm
- Start the process with our Utah Small Claims Worksheet
- Next in the Small Claims series: Small Claims Trials in Utah
- Success In Small Claims Court
- Small Claims Court Terms
- Defending a Small Claims Court Case
- Visit our Small Claims Court Forum for more help