Small claims court is designed to adjudicate relatively small monetary disputes in an efficient and inexpensive manner. Typically, both individuals and business entities can bring suit in a small claims court for amounts not exceeding a locally instituted maximum, such as $7,500 US Dollars. Legal representation typically is not allowed at trial, though both parties to a suit are free to consult an attorney before the trial begins. Filing procedures are subject to local law, but, generally, they are largely similar from place to place. To file in small claims court, identify the appropriate venue, obtain and complete the small claims filing forms and file your claim with the clerk of the court.
Before you file in small claims court, you should educate yourself. Though small claims courts are designed to be less formal and easier to navigate than circuit and district courts, there are very precise rules that must be followed to successfully bring a suit to trial. In most jurisdictions, you can obtain a self-help filing guide from the court clerk or the court librarian. Read this guide carefully before beginning.
You must file your claim in the appropriate court, or your suit is likely to be dismissed. Typically, you are required to file your claim in the court that has jurisdiction over the party that you are suing. So, for example, if you plan to file a claim for damage to your property that occurred while vacationing in a city 300 miles (482.8 km) from your home, you might have to travel that far to file your claim and to appear for trial.
After you have identified the appropriate court, you must obtain and complete the filing forms. Many court systems maintain the appropriate filing forms online for printing from your home computer. If this service is not available, you can usually obtain the filing forms from the courthouse or order the forms by telephone from the clerk of the court in which you plan to file.
Filing forms are designed to inform both the court and the party being sued what the claim is about. Your answers to the filing form questions should be in plain language and should be as complete as possible. Be direct and precise. Typically, you will have to provide a detailed accounting of the money claim you are making.
In many jurisdictions, to file in small claims court, you must confirm that you have made a direct request to the second party for payment of the claim. Typically, you can do this in person, in writing or by telephone. If you have not made a request for payment, you should do so before filing a claim, or your suit is likely to be dismissed.
Take your completed filing forms to the clerk in the court that will hear your case. After the clerk has reviewed your filing, you will be asked to make copies of the forms. Next, you will need to pay the required filing fees. Finally, the clerk will assign a court date for your trial.
After you file in small claims court, many jurisdictions require you to serve a copy of the filing forms on the party you are suing. You usually can do this in person, by hiring a process server or by mail. If this is a requirement in the jurisdiction where you filed, the court clerk will advise you of the required procedures.