The small claims court allows citizens to bring lawsuits in an informal manner and does not require a party to hire an attorney. The small claims court provides a speedy, reasonably inexpensive and uncomplicated means of determining your claim. The procedures are not complex. The plaintiff fills out a simple form stating why the defendant owes him or her money or that the defendant has property which should be returned to the plaintiff. Each party will explain his or her side of the story to the Judge at trial. The Judge may ask questions of each party to determine the complete facts of the case. The Judge will make a decision based on the facts and evidence presented by the parties and on the law as it applies to the facts. Claims filed in small claims court are currently limited to $6,000.00 or less.
The judgment entered by the Court is a legal determination that another person owes you a certain sum of money and court costs. Collecting the judgment is your responsibility. The length of time it will take to collect depends upon both your diligence and the debtor’s ability to pay. In referring to your case for any reason, it is important that you have your COURT CASE NUMBER.
If payment is not made after judgment, you have several legal methods of collection.
When a Proceedings Supplemental is filed, the debtor is questioned under oath about his or her ability to pay (income, assets, liabilities, family size, etc.). If you know that the debtor has a job and know the address of the employer, you may file Interrogatories with the Clerk to be issued to the employer when you file the Proceedings Supplemental. The Court may determine from the answers to the Interrogatories whether the debtor is garnishable. At the hearing, you will have the opportunity to ask the debtor, or inform the Court, about the debtor’s ability to pay. The Court may also choose to order any of the following at the hearing:
At any time in the future that the debtor fails to follow a Court order, or if you have reason to believe his or her ability to pay has improved, you may ask that the debtor be ordered to reappear. If the debtor is served with notice of the hearing and does not attend, the Court may set a rule to show cause hearing in order to determine whether the debtor is in Contempt of Court for failing to appear. If the debtor cannot be found to be served with the order to appear, the winning party can request that the hearing be continued for a period of time to allow more time to find the debtor and to serve him or her with notice of the hearing.
The law regulates the amount and the kinds of income that can be garnished. As a rule of thumb, the first $217.50 of weekly take-home pay is exempt, and the maximum that can be taken out each week is one-fourth of the disposable income. Only one garnishment can be deducted at one time; it is important to “get in line” because garnishment orders are paid in the order that they are received by the employer. If the debtor changes jobs, you will have to ask for a new garnishment order.
The personal property of the debtor can be attached and sold at execution. This means of collection is strictly controlled by statute and subject to many exemptions. For that reason, it is advisable that you consult with an attorney if you think execution against personal property might be worthwhile.
If the debtor dies before the judgment is paid, you may attempt to collect what is owed by filing a claim against the debtor’s estate within three (3) months.
If it is shown to the Court that the debtor has filed bankruptcy and your judgment is listed in the bankruptcy petition, the Court is required by Federal law to stop collection proceedings. In that case, your only remedy is in Bankruptcy Court.
Disbursement of payments are made each Monday via U.S. Mail.
After a judgment has been paid in full, it must be released in the Clerk’s Office, even if the monies were paid directly to the judgment creditor (rather than through the Clerk’s Office). A judgment release form is available here. This document releases the judgment, including court costs, as fully paid and satisfied.