Is a former landlord refusing to refund your security deposit? Do you have a customer who refuses to pay you for the repairs you made to her car? These are just a couple examples of the types of claims or disputes that are resolved by the Wyoming small claims courts.
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 lawsuit in the right court.
Where to File
You file a small claims case with the clerk of the appropriate circuit court. In Wyoming, there are nine circuit courts, and each covers one or more of the 23 counties of the state. Generally, you have to file in the circuit court that covers the county where the defendant lives. However, some Wyoming small claims courts will let you file your claim with it if the defendant works in county covered by the court and the defendant is served (notified about your lawsuit) in that county. If you lawsuit involves a written contract, like a lease or a sales contract, it may say where exactly any suit must be filed.
If you don't file the lawsuit in the right county, the defendant can ask the court to move the case to the proper circuit court, or maybe even have the case 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 of the court in your area for more information.
Small Claims Affidavit and Summons
Lawsuits begin when the plaintiff, the person who's suing, files a "complaint." In the Wyoming small claims courts, there's a special form called the "Small Claims Affidavit." This form tells the defendant, and the court, why you're filing suit and how much money you want the defendant to pay you. You also need to complete a part of a form called a "Summons," which basically tells the defendant when and where to show up for trial. The circuit court clerk can give you a copy of these forms, or you can get copies online. The clerk can also give you a little help in filling out the forms, like telling you whose name goes where and where you need to sign, but she can't give legal advice about your claim.
When filling out the form, you need to give information about your case in a clear and simple way. Print neatly and just give the facts about your claim. Specifically, you'll need to give as much as possible of the following information:
- Your name, address and telephone numbers where you can be reached during the day and evening
- The defendant's name, address, telephone number and place of employment
- The amount of money you want the defendant to pay
- Reasons why the defendant owes you money
It's very important that you have the defendant's proper name and address. If you're suing:
- A business that's not a corporation, like a sole proprietorship, you need to list the business owner's name and address. If you only know the name of the business, check with the Wyoming Secretary of State's Office for the owner's name, or check with the local Better Business Bureau (BBB)
- A corporation, you can get its exact name and address from the Secretary of State's Office. You'll also find the name of the company's "registered agent," which is the person who accepts important documents for the corporation
- A partnership, you should list the name of the partnership as well as all of the individual partners. Again the Secretary of State may be able to help you get that information
In Wyoming, you can file your Small Claims Affidavit in person, and in some counties, you can file it by mail. Check with court clerk to see if you have to file in person. Also, the clerk either has to see you sign the Small Claims Affidavit, or you have to sign it in front of notary (have it "notarized").
At the time you file your forms, you will need to pay a filing fee. In Wyoming, the fee is $10. In addition, you may need to pay a $4 "appearance fee." Some courts take personal checks, some only accept cash or money orders. And these fees can change at any time. So, make sure you talk to the court clerk about the fees before you go to the courthouse.
Generally, if you win your case, the small claims court will order the defendant to pay your filing fees (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 a copy of your Small Claims Affidavit and Summons is delivered to (or "served on") the defendant. You're responsible for making sure that the defendant is served. In Wyoming, the sheriff of the county in which the defendant lives is usually in charge of serving court papers. You have to take the papers to the sheriff and pay a fee, usually $10, so that the defendant can be served.
Make sure you have the right name and address! If the defendant isn't served properly your case can't go forward, and it may be dismissed, or "thrown out" of court, and you'll then have to start all over again. If you're suing a corporation, you need to serve its "registered agent." She's the person named by the corporation who's responsible for accepting important documents and papers on behalf of or for the corporation. If you're suing a sole proprietorship, you need to serve the business's owner or its registered agent, if it has one. If you're suing a partnership, you need to serve its general or managing partner.
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 you agree to a settlement before trial, you need to tell the court clerk and have your case dismissed. The clerk can give you the forms you need to dismiss the case
- Answer the suit. This is where the defendant either gives the court a written and signed letter that sets out in clear and simple language why you shouldn't win the case, or he appears at trial and challenges your claim
- Default. If the defendant doesn't show up for trial (or "defaults"), you automatically win, so long as he was properly served with the Small Claims Affidavit and Summons and you can show the judge that your claim against him was valid
- File suit against you. If the defendant thinks that you owe him money, he must file a small claims lawsuit against you. This is different from many states that let a defendant simply file a "counterclaim" without having to file a whole new, separate lawsuit
- Ask for a continuance, which postponing the trial to another day. The request has to be writing; there must be a good reason for it, such as illness; and you usually have to agree to the postponement
Questions For Your Attorney
- I filed a small claims suit against a dog owner, who lives 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 paperwork and represent me in small claims court?
- The defendant I sued in small claims court said that I filed suit in the wrong circuit court and the case was moved to another court. Do I have to file another Small Claims Affidavit and pay another filing fee?
Related Resources on Lawyers.comsm
- Start the process with our Wyoming Small Claims Worksheet
- Next in the Small Claims series: Small Claims Trials 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