Guide To Small Claims Court
ACTIONS THAT CAN BE FILED IN SMALL CLAIMS COURT
Small Claims Court is designed to handle small matters in the simplest manner possible.
F You do not need a lawyer to file a small claims action, but you may have a lawyer represent you if you wish.
F You may only file an action for money (not for the return of property or any other remedy).
F The maximum claim is $3,000.00.
F You may not bring an action for libel, slander, malicious prosecution, or abuse of process.
F You may not sue for exemplary or punitive damages.
F There are no jury trials
WHO MAY SUE AND BE SUED
Ø An individual, company or corporation may file a claim against another individual, company or corporation.
You may file in this court if:
Ø If you are suing a corporation you must use its proper legal name. You may verify a corporation’s legal name with the Corporate Division of the Secretary of State’s Office in Columbus, OH. (614) 466-3910.
Ø If you are suing a company that is not a corporation you must sue an individual and then state the company name that he or she is doing business under. For example: John Smith dba ABC Company.
Ø Small Claims court can not hear cases brought by an agent or assignee except in certain specific instances—see Ohio Revised Code 1925.02.
Ø You can file an action against more than one person or corporation in the same lawsuit if the claims against each party are related. (That is, they come from the same contract, accident, or set of events.)
HOW TO FILE A CLAIM
ð You may file in person or by mail.
ð Correctly identify the parties to the small claim complaint. The Plaintiff is the person who brings the lawsuit to court. The Defendant is the person being sued.
ð The name and address of the plaintiff and of the defendant. You MUST have the correct name of the defendant otherwise any judgment you get may not be enforceable.
ð The amount of money you believe the defendant owes you.
ð The complaint must be signed in the presence of the Court’s Clerk, Deputy Clerk, or Notary Public. If you are filing the complaint by MAIL you must sign it in front of a Notary Public BEFORE mailing.
ð Your complaint must be accompanied by the proper filing fee. Please check the website at www.clevelandheightscourt.com for current filing fees.
NOTIFICATION OF THE HEARING DATE
After the complaint is filed the court does two things:
1. Schedules a hearing date on the claim and notifies the Plaintiff of that date.
2. Sends the defendant a copy of the complaint with summons and notice of the hearing date by certified mail.
Whenever you file a document of any kind with the Court (with the exception of the complaint) such as a motion for continuance, objections or a reply to objections, you must serve a copy of the document filed on the opposing party. You accomplish this by mailing or hand delivering a copy to the opposing party at his/her last known address.
You must prove to the Court that you served the opposing party. You do this by adding a statement to the document informing the court of the date and manner of service.
A copy of the foregoing document was mailed on the 1st day of January, 2008, to Donna Defendant, Any Street, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118.
Anyone can request mediation when filing a complaint with the court or when receiving a summons. When filing a small claim this process may be a effective choice.
If both sides to the dispute are willing to mediate, a mediator will be assigned to the case. Mediation will occur on the day the case is set for hearing with court.
The mediator is a neutral third person who helps the parties resolves their disputes. The mediator is not a judge, and will not decide if either party is right or wrong. The mediator will not force any party to accept any settlement.
The mediator will try to help the parties come to a resolution. If the parties settle their dispute, the mediator will help them write out the agreement. It is up to the parties to abide by the terms of the agreement they reach unless the agreement is presented to and adopted by the Court as a judgment.
If it is not possible to reach a resolution, the parties will be able to proceed with the hearing in the court and have a Magistrate decide the outcome.
How to prepare
This is your only chance to prove your case. If you are the Plaintiff, it is your job to prove that the defendant owes you money. You must also have evidence to prove how much the defendant owes you.
R Make sure that you have all the documents that you need. Bring all the papers that you believe will assist you in your claim. (Such as contracts, canceled checks, bills, receipts and letters)
R Make sure you have enough copies of all documents. The court will retain the documents that you admitted as evidence. You will also need copies for the opposing party and yourself.
R Make sure you bring any physical evidence that you need. If you need photographs, or wish to bring an object to help prove your claim make sure you bring them with your to court.
R Make sure you bring any witnesses you need to testify on your behalf. Letters and affidavits stating what your witnesses would say if they were present, though considered, normally DO NOT carry as much weight as does a witness personal appearance.
What Happens at the Hearing
You should arrive at Court before your scheduled time to make sure you are on time. Check in with the bailiff as soon as you arrive in courtroom.
ð Your case will be heard before a Court appointed Magistrate. The plaintiff will have the first opportunity to tell his/her side of the story. The defendant will then be given an opportunity to tell his/her story.
ð Make sure your documents are organized before you come to Court. Also make sure that you have your thoughts organized so that you can explain the situation as clearly and concisely as possible. All of your statements should be brief and to the point. Follow the instructions given to you by the Magistrate. Do not interrupt when the other side is testifying.
ð Small Claims hearings can take anywhere from ten to forty-five minutes. You should be prepared to stay longer, as other cases are also scheduled.
A counterclaim is a claim that can be brought by a DEFENDANT in the small claim action if the defendant feels that the person suing him/her actually owes him/her money. A counterclaim is not a new lawsuit. A counterclaim may only be brought if it arises out of the same set of circumstances as the original lawsuit.
A counterclaim must be filed with the Court at least seven (7) days BEFORE the hearing date. Counterclaim forms are available at the court. You may use the Court’s form or one that is similar, as long as it gives the Court all of the information that it needs.
The defendant must include the following information in counterclaim:
1. A brief but clear statement why the plaintiff owes the defendant money; and
2. How much money the defendant thinks he/she should get from the plaintiff.
At the end of the hearing the Magistrate will either announce her/his decision or take the matter under consideration. In either case both parties will receive a copy of a written report containing the Magistrate’s decision within 30 days of the hearing (unless there are extraordinary circumstances that require more time)
¨ You have fourteen (14) days to object to the decision of the Magistrate. If you feel that the Magistrate did not make the right decision, you may object to it. To do this you must file a written objection with the Court and serve a copy of the objections on the opposing party. If there is a factual dispute you must attach a transcript to the objection (See service requirements). The opposing party then has ten days in which to file a reply to those objections and also serve the other party. (There is a filing fee for this process)
¨ Your objections should be brief and to the point. They should tell the Judge exactly where you think the Magistrate went wrong and why. The Judge will not, however, consider new evidence that you did not produce at the hearing.
¨ After both sides have had an opportunity to file objections and or reply to objections (this may take at least 10-12 days) the Judge will take the matter under consideration and issue a ruling either approving, overruling, or modifying the Magistrate’s decision. The Court may also, under extraordinary circumstances and at its discretion, set the matter for Judicial Hearing. Once the Court enters a judgment based upon the Magistrate’s decision or the Judge’s ruling or hearing an enforceable judgment has been created.
¨ If you do not agree with the Judge’s decision you may appeal that decision to the 8th District Court of Appeals. This is a technical procedure that must be done within 30 days of the judgment being issued. The Court cannot give you legal advice on appellate procedure. You may want contact an attorney or review the Rules of Appellate Procedure at your local library
ANSWERS TO SOME COMMON QUESTIONS:
Cleveland Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service
113 St. Clair Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
Cuyahoga County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service
1228 Euclid Avenue
370 Halle Building
Cleveland, OH 44115
FILING FEES as of July 1, 2008
Small Claims Complaint 1 defendant $60.00
Additional Defendant $15.00
Small Claims Counterclaim $30.00
Witness Fees & Subpoenas $ 6.00
Motion to Continue $15.00
Objections to decision $20.00