How To Take Your Case To Small Claims Court

Small claims or conciliation court provides a way for individuals to settle their differences with the help of a neutral referee or judge.

Inside, some tips to help you win your case in conciliation court.

The price of admission is generally low, between $50 and $100 most places. The plaintiff (the person who starts the case) files a short statement of the claim, pays the filing fee, and serves the defendant either by mail or by using the sheriff or other third party for personal service.

Conciliation court is a great place for consumers to get some justice. Before bringing your claim, however, you will want to check with your state’s conciliation court to make sure you can actually bring your case. Generally, the defendant you intend to sue must have some personal or business presence in the state. Also, the amount of money you are seeking will probably have to fall beneath a certain amount. In Minnesota, for example, the total amount of the claim must be below $7,500.

You can probably find the complaint forms and other information on your state’s or county’s website. Fill them out carefully and completely, and bring them to court to file.

Here are a few more tips for your day in court:

* Spend a bit of time watching the daytime court shows. Seriously. Other than the judge’s sass, they’re not too different from conciliation court. Notice what the litigants do wrong.

* Bring all your exhibits and witnesses with you to court. Make an extra copy of documents, and keep them organized.

* Focus on the logical reason you should win. So often I see people want to tell their story. (A) There isn’t time, and (B) it’s irrelevant. Stick to the facts and why they matter.

* Always show respect for the judge or referee. They are the ones who decide whether you win or lose. The no-fail method of address is “your honor.”

Conciliation court is a great way for consumers to get some justice in the courts. Build your case carefully and present it as professionally as you can, and good luck on your day in court! SAM GLOVER


Edit Your Comment

  1. bambino says:

    here’s a question that perhaps someone can answer: if the judge rules in your favor, what methods do you have at your disposal for collection? My understanding has been that it’s easy to win a case, but near impossible to collect since the court doesn’t ‘mandate’ payment. Bluegus?

    • kelbear says:

      @bambino: Most people will just pay up. If they don’t the court can assign police to go in and confiscate assets for auction. Nobody can just ignore the court’s decision.

      If they don’t have any money, then you’re probably not going to get much after their bankruptcy settlement. In which case it’s probably not worth your costs in litigating anyway.

    • camer1jg says:

      it depends on what jurisdiction you are in. Some states are easier than others to enforce judgments. I garnished a girl’s wages in MI and it was pretty easy. In FL there is an exemption for the first $500 a person owns, but there are other remedies. If you get a judgment be sure to enforce it or get a law firm to do it for you. Often they can add attorneys fees for the collection work.

  2. tedyc03 says:

    Simple. File something called an Order of Examination. This will cause a court hearing to be set and is like a subpoena. Once you have filed the Order of Examination, you can ask the court to grant you money, and I’m pretty sure that you can even set up bank levys and such.

    Please note that I am ***NOT*** an attorney and that you should consult an attorney for specific legal advice related to your state. Since I work for a process serving company, I deal with small claims (or conciliation court) cases all the time. And once you’ve won, you can collect.

    Also, sending a letter to the defendant (once you’ve won) indicating that their credit will be adversely affected by an unpaid judgment might also spur them along.

  3. Sam Glover says:

    @bambino: This will vary from state to state. In my state, Minnesota, a conciliation court judgment is basically an enforceable settlement agreement. To collect, you have to docket the judgment in district court. That gives you a judgment you can actually collect on.

    Once you have that, you can garnish wages, levy against bank accounts, etc. At this point, it may be worthwhile to hire a lawyer to help you collect, particularly since you may be able to recover the attorney fees you expend on collection.

  4. MikeWas says:

    In Florida, small claims court judgments are fully enforceable just like any other judgment. The court, upon request, will order the judgment debtor to identify all assets the judgment creditor could collect against. Failure to comply may be considered contempt of court.

    A small claims case which settles usually results in a binding settlement agreement, enforceable as any other contract would be. Depending on the agreement, attorney’s fees for enforcing the agreement may be available.

  5. LawyerontheDL says:

    A couple of other tips for small claims court:

    (1) BE POLITE TO EVERYONE, even the person whom you are suing. This is definitely a place to take the high road. Don’t be the ranting jerk you see on TV. Judges tend to find ways to stick it to these types of people.

    (2) DRESS APPROPRIATELY. Just because it is small claims court doesn’t mean that your jeans are appropriate. If you are coming from work and have to wear your uniform, which may include jeans, you should apologize for your attire and explain that you are coming from work.

    They may seem like silly things, but they can sway the results in your favor. I have seen it happen.

    As for enforcement, in New York, you have several ways to enforce a small claims judgment, including garnishment of wages. Another thing you can do is file the judgment with the County Clerk and it will act as a lien on the defendant’s real property. Most clerks will help you navigate this area.