Small Claims Court
From "Guide to Small Claims Court", from the office of (former) State Representative Lynn Rivers.
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What is Small Claims Court? Small Claims Court is part of the District Court system. It is set up for people to represent themselves and settle their disputes without having to hire a lawyer.
Why is Small Claims Court sometimes referred to as the "People's Court?" Small Claims Court is a simple, inexpensive approach to legal matters. No lawyers are allowed, no juries make decisions, the amount that can be collected is small, and the decision of the judge cannot be appealed.
You do not need to know anything about the law to bring a case to Small Claims Court. The judge knows the law. You just tell your story in your own words. This simple approach makes it more "user-friendly," and thus Small Claims Court is usually more available to the average citizen than other courts.
What can I sue for in Small Claims Court? Anytime you or your property has been damaged in some way, or you are owed money by another person or business, you can file a lawsuit in Small Claims Court.
You can sue another person or a business for up to $3,000.
How do I start a Small Claims Court case? You must start your case at the District Court Office for the city or district where the person you are suing lives, or where the incident about which you are suing took place. Your case can be transferred if it is not started in the right court. (To locate your landlord's address, see our information on Finding Your Landlord's Address.)
Next, you need to fill out a District Court form called an Affidavit and Claim. You can also get this form at the District Court clerk's office. Just tell the clerk you want to start a Small Claims case.
What if I have problems filling out the "Affidavit and Claim"? Ask the District Court clerk for help. The clerk may not give legal advice, only assistance with what types of information to include on the form and help with understanding court procedures.
What do I do after I fill out the "Affidavit and Claim"? Take the "Affidavit and Claim" to the District Court office. Take along copies of any written evidence you have to back up your claim, such as letters, repair bills, estimates, or receipts. Make sure you have at least three copies of each piece of written evidence. The clerk will attach them to the "Affidavit and Claim" form.
Make sure what you give the clerk are copies of this evidence. You will need the originals to show the judge when you get to court.
Once you have given the clerk the "Affidavit and Claim" form and the copies of your evidence, you have filed your case. The clerk will then set your court date. The date is often 30-45 days from the date you bring the form in.
How much does it cost to start a Small Claims Court case? The filing fee is $17 if you are suing for $600 or less, and $32 if you are suing for more than $600. You pay this when you file your case.
You will also have to pay a separate fee to have your "Affidavit and Claim" form served on the person you are suing. The amount of the service fee depends on how the defendant is served: by certified mail or by a "process server". A "process server" is someone who personally hands the court papers to the person you are suing.
It is much cheaper, and just as legal, to have your opponent served by certified mail as to have a process server personally give him or her the papers.
If you win your case, these fees - also known as court costs - can be charged against your opponent, and you can collect them from him or her. If you lose your case, however, you will not get your money back.
What if I am too poor to pay these fees? If you are very poor or receiving public assistance, welfare or Social Security, you can ask the court not to charge you the fees to file the case. You will need to fill out a special form and give it to the clerk when you start your case.
The Washtenaw County Trial Court has more information on small claims cases. Click here to go to the court's web site.
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