What is Small Claims Court?

Mario Massillamany-partner at Massillamany & Jeter LLP

Mario Massillamany-founding partner at Massillamany & Jeter LLP

Are you having trouble getting people to pay their unpaid debts? Did you have a contract with someone, but they breached it? Are your customers refusing to pay for the goods or services you provided them? If so, then the small claims court might be for you.

Small claims courts are designed to give those with claims of $6,000 or less easy access to the court system. They allow parties to easily represent themselves because the procedural and evidentiary rules are relaxed, and thus avoid the expense of hiring an attorney. Finally, the rulings in small claims courts are done by the judge, which eliminates the complications of dealing with a jury trial. It also makes the rulings much more uniform across the board.

Before you file the claim, you must look at which court has jurisdiction to hear the case in the first place. According to Indiana law, the proper county to file the claim in is:

  1. Where the transaction or occurrence took place
  2. Where the obligation or debt was incurred or performed
  3. Where the defendant lives; or
  4. Where the defendant is employed

In addition, if the small claims courts are divided into the townships, like Marion County, then there is another level of decision in determining the township in which to file the claim, but this decision is based on the same criteria as shown above. The proper township to file the claim in is [1] where the transaction or occurrence took place, [2] where the obligation was incurred or is to be performed, or [3] where the defendant resides or is employed.

Now that you know where to file the claim, you need to know how to file the claim and what exactly to include in it. When you are filing claim, you can go to the county clerk’s office to get the forms you need or you can find them online at the website of whatever county in which you are filing the claim. Every claim should include a brief and clear statement of the amount you are seeking and the exact nature of the claim, as in why does the other party owe you money. If the claim is based on a contract or lease, then be sure to include a copy of that with the claim. If the claim is based on an unpaid account, then you need to complete an Affidavit of Debt form and include that with the claim.

There are a few more important notes on filing a claim in small claims court. First, while the plaintiff waives their right to a jury trial, the defendant can still opt for a jury trial if they so choose. Second, even if your claim is above $6,000, but you would still like to be in small claims court, then you can waive the amount over $6,000. However, once you forgo that amount and file in small claims court, you will no longer be able to sue for any of that amount. Finally, there is a filing fee you must pay when you file the claim and each court/county could have a different filing fee, which can be found online or by simply calling the clerk’s office. It can be waived in certain circumstances, but if you win the case, then the judge will order the losing party to pay the filing fee.

Overall, small claims courts are easy and useful entities to quickly and efficiently adjudicate any issues that fall within the requirements of the court. Contact attorney Mario Massillamany to discuss filing a small claims action.

Mario Massillamany is a founding partner of Massillamany & Jeter LLP, a full-service law firm serving central Indiana.  For more information on this topic, please contact Mr. Massillamany at (317) 432-3443 or by e-mail at: mario@mjattorneys.com.

This article is not intended to serve as legal advice.  Should you have questions about this topic, you should consult with a licensed lawyer.

 

 

 

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