You've been preparing for your small claims case for a while now. You've arranged for witnesses to be at trial and you have all the receipts and other documents ready. It's getting close to the time for the judge of the Wyoming small claims court to make a decision on who wins and who loses.
Now'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.
When the judge makes a decision in the case, that is, declares who won, it's called a judgment. The judge can 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
- After taking some time to think about the case and all of the evidence. This is called taking the case "under submission." A copy of the decision is mailed to each party, usually within one to two weeks after the trial
Technically, the lawsuit's over when the judgment is made and "entered" into the court records. In reality, however, the case may not be over; you may have some work left to do, depending on whether everyone agrees with the judge's decision and if the winning party 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 judge made a mistake. In Wyoming, the appeal goes to the district court for the county where the small claims suit was filed. Either party may file an appeal. So, you can appeal if the judge decides that the defendant doesn't owe you money or if you think the judge didn't award you enough money.
The district court looks at the record of the small claims trial, that is, it looks only at the evidence and testimony that was given at the trial. So, you generally can't present new evidence or testimony on appeal.
You have to file an appeal within 30 days after the judgment is entered into the court records. You need to file a Notice of Appeal, which basically tells the district court, and the other party, why you think the judgment's wrong. Also, you have to pay a filing fee and possibly other fees when you file the Notice of Appeal. The district court clerk, or the clerk of the circuit court where the trial was held, can give you the forms you need to file an appeal and tell you the current fee amounts.
An appeal can be 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 an appeal.
Relief from Judgment
The plaintiff or the defendant can file a motion for relief from judgment or "motion for relief." In some cases, the motion essentially asks the court for a new trial. This is commonly used when the defendant wants the judge to void or "vacate" a default judgment, a judgment for the plaintiff that was entered because the defendant failed to show up for trial. Another common example is when a plaintiff's case was dismissed because he didn't show up for trial. In this motion you ask the judge to vacate the dismissal so that you can continue the case against the defendant.
To be successful on this type of motion, you need to "show cause," that is, have a good reason that justifies a new trial. Some examples of good cause include:
- Showing that you were unable to attend the first trial because of an emergency, such as illness
- You've discovered new evidence that wasn't available when the first trial took place
- You actually paid the plaintiff's claim or damages before the trial, or the plaintiff released you from liability on the claim
This motion can also be used if there's a minor clerical error or mistake in the judgment. For example, if at the end of the case the judge announced that the defendant owed you $3,000, but the written judgment lists the amount as $300, you can file a motion to have the error corrected.
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case, and the judge orders the defendant to pay all or some of your claim, you need to begin collection efforts if the defendant doesn't pay you as ordered in 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. This can be a long and complicated process that may require the help of an attorney.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I sued the defendant for $1500, but the judge only awarded me $1,000. Should I appeal?
- How much will you charge to represent me on an appeal from small claims judgment?
- I only have one day left to file a Notice of Appeal and I don't think I can get it done in time. Can I get an extension of time?
Related Resources on Lawyers.comsm
- Start the process with our Wyoming Small Claims Worksheet
- Next in the Small Claims series: Collecting a Judgment in Wyoming
- Success In Small Claims Court
- Small Claims Court Terms
- Defending a Small Claims Court Case
- Visit our Small Claims Court Forum for more help