If you feel an individual or a business has treated you unfairly and you believe they owe you money or satisfaction, there is something you can do about it. You can sue them in small claims court for up to $6,000. You can do it yourself without hiring a lawyer. It is advisable, however, that in any legal situation an attorney be consulted. This holds true for both landlords and tenants.
How to Sue Someone in Small Claims Court
You can bring a lawsuit against anyone you believe owes you money. You simply tell why you feel that someone owes you money and the person or business you are suing tells their side of the case. After the judge has heard both sides, he/she makes a decision on who is right. If you win, the person or business you are suing has to pay you. Note the fact that neither party is allowed to have an attorney in small claims court, but if you are suing a business or corporation, they may be represented by an employee who is also an attorney. This will not put you at a disadvantage as the judge decides the case on the facts of each side not on legal tactics.
Remember, you have a right to use this court; it is not complicated. Your first step is to file a claim against the party you are suing. This is done in person in the district court office. The district court in which you file your claim depends on where the person you are suing lives or where the business is located. In some instances, the court action may be brought in the county where the transaction took place. To be sure, call the District Court's Office at 989-731-0239. If you wish to file a case, forms are available at the District Court office for a nominal fee, or online. The form is called Affidavit and Claim (dc84). The affidavit names the party you are suing, how much money you are suing for, and why.
This is also a good time to bring along any evidence you may have to back up your claim such as a bill of sale, receipt, lease, or promissory note.
The fee for filing is minimal (usually between $30 and $70). Also, try and determine whether the party you are suing has enough money to settle your claim. In most cases, you can collect the money awarded you in small claims court but there are a few times when you cannot. You should check this out before you invest your time in filing a claim.
After you have filed your claim, the court will notify the person or business that you are suing that you have filed a claim against them. This is called "serving the defendant" with a summons. Both parties will then be notified of the date on which you are to be in court to present your cases. When you appear, one of two things will happen:
- if the defendant appears, the hearing will proceed.
- if the defendant does not appear, the court will tell you that you can take a "default" judgment. This means that if the judge decides you have a good claim you can collect your money without a hearing since the party you are suing did not appear to fight your claim.
Your hearing date will usually be within 30 days from the time you first filed your suit. It would be wise to use this time to double-check your evidence, contact witnesses, etc.
The party you are suing has the right to ask that the case be heard in a higher court which is the general district court The court will notify you if the defendant makes such a request. In the higher court, both you and the defendant have the right to be represented by an attorney. Whoever loses the case may be asked to pay for legal expenses. Note, however, that legal expenses may not necessarily include attorney fees.
The next step, of course, is the hearing. Be there on time and properly dressed. Bring all the evidence and make sure your witnesses will be there on time.
The clerk will call your case and both parties then will appear before a judge to present their cases. When you state your claim, be sure to do so in your own words and why you think the party you are suing owes you money.
The defendant will also have an opportunity to present his side of the case. Listen to him carefully. Make sure all the facts of the case are presented to the judge fairly and completely. The judge wants to hear all the facts before making his decision. His decision is final and the case may not be taken to a higher court by either party. In some instances, however, a petition by either party may be used to persuade the same judge to reopen the case in small claims division.
When and if the judge decides in your favor, that means the court agrees with you that the person or business you are suing owes you money. You must be paid the amount specified by the judge plus the amount of court costs.
If the defendant refuses to pay according to the settlement, you can make him pay legally by having his wages or bank account garnished. If garnishment is necessary, you must go back to court and file more papers.
When you have collected your money, you will be finished with the lawsuit in the small claims division of district court.
Points To Remember
- Do not be afraid to go to court. If you feel your claim is valid and it cannot be settled in any other manner, take them to court.
- You do not need a lawyer to file and carry through a small claim for $6,000 or less in the small claims division of district court.
- If you win your case, the defendant is legally bound to pay you.
- You may sue in a civil action in a general civil court for up to $25,000. and both you and the person or business you are suing have the right to an attorney in municipal court.
- Small claims of the district court cannot be appealed to a higher court. General civil court decisions can be appealed by either you or the defendant.