How do I File a Small Claims Complaint?

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  • Written By: Christopher John
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 17 December 2019
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To file a small claims complaint, a person should read the rules of procedures for the court and prepare the necessary documents for filing. The rules will vary for each jurisdiction. The rules often will contain the forms you will need to file a small claims complaint. Careful review of the rules will also help a party avoid dismissal of the complaint on a technicality and the resulting frustration with the legal process. Furthermore, it will provide a party with an advantage over a party who fails to review the rules.

Small claims courts usually conduct proceedings informally, though the court will still adhere to certain rules to ensure consistency and fairness in all proceedings. A person filing a small claims complaint must comply with the rules to pursue his or her claim. After a party understands the rules, he or she will need to prepare the complaint. This document contains key information such as the names of the parties involved, the date the conflict arose between the parties, a statement of facts concerning the claim, and a statement of relief or remedies requested. The party submitting the small claims complaint is the plaintiff or petitioner, and the party responding to the complaint is the defendant or respondent.


After the small claims complaint is prepared, the plaintiff will also need to complete a summons form. The summons form is an order that commands the party receiving the complaint to file a response within a specified time, which is usually 30 days. The plaintiff is usually required to fill in the blanks on the summons form with the names of the parties and the location or address of the defendant. After the complaint and summons are complete, the plaintiff will need to make two copies of each document and submit all documents to the court clerk. The clerk will take the documents, endorse them with an official date stamp and signature, keep the originals for the court, and return the copies to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff must then serve the small claims complaint and summons on the defendant. The plaintiff cannot serve the documents personally. Instead, a plaintiff must have the police serve the documents or hire a private process server. After the defendant receives the small claims complaint and summons, the defendant must file a response and may file counter claims against the plaintiff. The plaintiff must then file a response to the counter claims and submit a form to request a hearing on the small claims complaint.



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