You've been preparing for your small claims case for a while now, and you're ready. You've arranged for your witnesses to be at trial, and you have all the receipts and other documents ready. It's getting close to the time for the commissioner (or circuit court judge, if one's been assigned to your case) of a Wisconsin small claims court to decide who wins.
Now that you're ready, it's a good 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.
After the commissioner has seen all of the evidence and has heard both sides of the story, he'll make a decision in the case, that is, decide who won. The decision is called a judgment. The commissioner may 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 later
Technically, the case is over when the judge makes a decision and it's entered into the court records by the court clerk. 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 commissioner or circuit court judge made a mistake. In Wisconsin, 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 judge should have awarded you more money, then you may appeal. A lot of the appeal process depends on who decided the small claims case.
If your case was decided by a Commissioner, then you may ask that the case be reviewed by a circuit court judge. You do this by filing a Demand for Trial with the clerk of the small claims court that decided the case. This must be filed within 10 days after the commissioner made the decision immediately after the trial, or within 15 days if the case was taken under consideration and you were mailed the decision. Also, you have to mail a copy of this form to the other party and be able to prove to the circuit court judge that you did so. The same relaxed, informal Rules of Procedure in Small Claims Actions (which you can find in the Wisconsin laws) and the local rules for your particular small claims court will be used on the appeal.
- 45 days from the date the judgment was entered into the court records, but only if written notice of the entry of the final judgment was received by you and the other party within 21 days after the judgment was entered
- 90 days, if no written notice of the entry of the final judgment was given or received
- 15 days, if the small claims case was an eviction action
You have to pay a $195 fee when you file the appeal, and you may have to pay other fees and costs, as well.
An appeal to the Court of Appeals usually is 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 this type of appeal.
"Reopening" the Case
In some instances, the plaintiff or the defendant can file a motion or petition to "reopen" the case, which essentially asks the court for a new trial. If you're the defendant and:
- You want the commissioner to void or "vacate" a default judgment, which is a judgment that was entered for the plaintiff because you didn't file an answer or show up for trial, and you claim that you didn't do so because you weren't properly served with a copy of the plaintiff's Summons and Complaint, then you need to file a Petition to Answer or to Reopen Small Claims Judgment and Order
- If you didn't file an answer or show up for trial for any other good reason, like an illness or some type of mistake, you need to file a Motion to Reopen Small Claims Judgment and Order
If you're the plaintiff and your case was dismissed because you didn't show up for trial, and you want to continue the case against the defendant, you need to file a Motion to Reopen Small Claims Judgment and Order. You, too, must give the court a good reason why you didn't show up for trial.
Generally, you have to file this motion or petition within one year after the judgment was entered by the commissioner. And, in either case, if the commissioner grants a petition or motion to reopen, a new trial will be scheduled.
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case, and the commissioner orders the defendant to pay all or some of your claim or to turn over some property to you, 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. The same is true if you're the defendant and you won on a counterclaim, which is a claim that the plaintiff owed you money or had your property. 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 judge 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 by a commissioner in small claims court?