mall claims court is one way to resolve lawsuits and other legal problems without the necessity of hiring a lawyer. Typically, people use small claims when someone owes them money (money judgments) or the return of property (replevin). For years, you could only file an action in small claims for money judgment or replevin if the amount owed or the value of the property was $5,000 or less. The law has recently been amended to where people can now sue under small claims if the value of the property is $10,000 or less. Also, an eviction action regardless of the amount of rent owed may also be handled in small claims court.
Prior to starting a legal action in small claims court, it is best to first attempt to settle your dispute. If you cannot resolve your dispute, small claims court may be your answer. An action is started by filing a summons and complaint with the clerk of court in the county where the claim arose. The summons and complaint forms may be obtained from the clerk of court at your local courthouse. The person bringing the action or filing the lawsuit is called the plaintiff and the person you are suing is the defendant. The complaint requires the defendant’s full name and address, as well as a statement of the facts supporting your request for money or other relief.
In order to commence a small claims action, a filing fee of $94.50 must be paid to the clerk of court when you file the summons and complaint. The defendant must be served with an authenticated copy of the summons and complaint. If the defendant resides in the county where your lawsuit was filed, the clerk of court’s office will usually serve the summons and complaint by mail. This is done for a nominal fee that will change depending on the county where you bring your action.
The standard summons and complaint form that you receive from the clerk of court’s office has a date and time notifying the parties of the first court appearance. If the defendant was properly served with the summons and complaint but fails to appear for the hearing, the court will usually grant the relief being requested (i.e. a money judgment or return of property). In other words, you win the case. If, however, the defendant appears at the hearing and objects to the complaint, the court may attempt to immediately settle the matter. If the case is not settled, it is usually scheduled for trial on another date. On the trial date, you should bring along your witnesses and any proof to support your claim. The judge will allow the plaintiff (the party bringing the action) to present their case first. The court then allows the defendant an opportunity to respond to the allegations made by the plaintiff. After both sides have presented their positions, the court will then make a decision based upon the evidence presented at the trial. If you win, you are entitled to the money or property the judge decides is due you plus out-of-pocket expenses such as the filing fee and service fee. Also, a money judgment will earn interest until the debt has been paid in full.
If you win a money judgment, the judge will order the defendant to complete a financial disclosure statement identifying his or her income and assets. The financial disclosure statement must be mailed or delivered to you or the clerk of court by the defendant. If the defendant does not pay, you have several options. You may docket the judgment at the courthouse by paying a nominal fee. The docketed judgment then acts as a lien on the defendant’s real estate. You may also start a garnishment action to obtain a portion of the defendant’s earnings if he or she is employed.
This information is intended to describe the procedure in small claims court. This is a general overview of the law, and there may be exceptions to the statements given above. This information should not be relied upon for any statement or conclusion of law.
If you have any questions or would like more information regarding small claims actions you may write or call Attorney Alex P. Seifert, 700 Fifth Avenue, Second Floor, Antigo, Wisconsin 54409; telephone number (715) 623-3743. Alex is an associate in the law firm of Sommer, Olk, & Payant, SC. The law firm concentrates its practice in personal injury cases, estate planning and family law.