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«Small ClaimS Court a CitizenS Guide Tenth Edition Published by the Ohio Judicial Conference in cooperation with the Ohio State Bar Foundation. This ...»

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Small ClaimS Court

a CitizenS Guide

Tenth Edition

Published by the Ohio Judicial Conference in cooperation

with the Ohio State Bar Foundation.

This pamphlet is for informational purposes only. It does

not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon

as legal advice. For specific legal advice, consult with an


Every effort has been made to present accurate and up-todate information. However, procedures in small claims court

vary from court to court, and laws and rules change over time. Be sure to obtain the current local rules that govern the small claims court that is hearing or may be hearing your case.

This pamphlet represents the collective work of several writers and editors. The original version was published by the Ohio State Bar Foundation in 1994. Subsequent editions have been reviewed by judges, magistrates, clerks, and court administrators from many Ohio courts, and have benefited from editing and proofing by staff at both the Ohio State Bar Foundation and the Ohio State Bar Association.

Copyright 1994, 1997, 2001 Ohio State Bar Foundation Copyright 2006, 2013 Ohio Judicial Conference and Ohio State Bar Foundation Contents Introduction

What is small claims court

What cases can a small claims court handle?

Who can sue or be sued in small claims court?

Where do I file my claim?

How do I file my claim?

How much does it cost?

How long does it take?

I’ve been sued! What do I do?

What is mediation?

What if the claim is settled before the hearing?

How do I prepare my case?

What if I do not appear at the hearing?

What do I do at the hearing?

What if I disagree with the judgment?

What about payment?

How do I get my money?

How can I get help to enforce my judgment?

How can I find property to garnish orattach?

How can I obtain a judgment lien? What does it do?..............21 What if I need help paying the judgment?

Where can I get more information?

Some points to remember

Small Claims Guide Introduction This pamphlet describes small claims court in Ohio. It is designed to help those who plan to sue someone in small claims court or who are parties to a case in small claims court.

While every effort has been made to present accurate information about small claims court in Ohio, you should also contact the court that may or will hear your case. It is possible that some laws have changed since this pamphlet was updated, and there are variations among different small claims courts. You need to know about local rules, procedures, and costs. Hopefully this pamphlet will give you a good idea about how small claims court works and what questions to ask your local court.

Also keep in mind that everyone has the right to hire an attorney, including you and the other parties in your small claims case. While it is generally an advantage to be represented by an attorney, you will need to weigh that advantage against the cost. A brief consultation with an attorney may well be worth the cost.

What is small claims court?

Ohio law requires that each county and municipal court establish a small claims division, generally known as small claims court. (See chapter 1925 of the Ohio Revised Code.) The purpose of the small claims court is to resolve minor disputes fairly, quickly, and inexpensively.

The procedures in small claims court are simpler than in other court cases. Hearings are informal; there is no jury; cases are decided either by the municipal court or county court judge, or by a “magistrate” (a qualified attorney appointed by the judge); court costs are lower than in other cases. Some small claims courts hold evening sessions, and small claims courts in large metropolitan areas may have neighborhood offices.

–  –  –

What cases can a small claims court handle?

Small claims cases are like other lawsuits, except that the amounts involved are generally too small to make the expense of regular court proceedings worthwhile.

A small claims court can resolve many common disputes that involve modest amounts of money. Typical small claims court cases include claims by tenants to recover security deposits, claims by landlords for unpaid rent or damage to their property, claims by buyers for damages from defective merchandise, claims by business people and trades people for unpaid bills, claims by car owners for damage sustained in minor accidents, and claims by employees, babysitters, maids, and handypersons for unpaid wages.

There are limits on claims that can be resolved in small claims court:

1. The claims must be for money only. Small claims court cannot issue restraining orders, protection orders or injunctions, cannot grant divorces, and cannot order someone to return property.

Small claims court can only resolve claims that ask for money.

2. A claim cannot exceed $6,000 (not including any interest and court costs claimed). The claim itself can be for at most $6,000, and counter- or cross-claims that may be filed can only be for $6,000 (each) or less.

3. Regardless of the amount of money involved, a small claims court cannot handle certain types of lawsuits: lawsuits based on libel, slander, and malicious prosecution, lawsuits seeking punitive or exemplary damages, or lawsuits brought by an assignee or agent (such as a lawsuit brought by an insurance company on behalf of a policy holder; however, government entities can bring certain lawsuits through an agent).

Small Claims Guide

4. Small claims court cannot resolve claims against the agencies of the State of Ohio or against the United States government and its agencies.

If you have questions about whether your case fits these criteria, you may need legal advice from an attorney. Court staff may be able to answer questions about 1 and 2, but any doubts about issue 3 need to be resolved with legal advice.

Cases that initially fit the small claims criteria may be transferred

out of small claims court:

• If a case starts with a claim for $6,000 or less but then comes to include claims that exceed $6,000, the case will be transferred to the civil division of municipal or county court.

• If one of the parties to a case requests it, a case may be transferred to the civil division of the municipal or county court.

Who can sue or be sued in small claims court?

In general, anyone 18 years or older can sue or be sued in small claims court. A minor under the age of 18 may file a lawsuit through a parent or guardian.

Corporations, certain partnerships, and limited liability companies may sue and be sued in small claims court. If you are an officer or an employee of such an organization and are involved in a small claims court case on your organization’s behalf, you should seek the advice of an attorney before you file any document with the court. You may present evidence concerning your side in a dispute, but you may not engage in advocacy, such as questioning of witnesses in court or the presentation of arguments.

If you advocate in court on behalf of your organization, you may violate rules about the unauthorized practice of law-even if all you do is fill out forms and file papers. To avoid such a violation, contact an attorney to find out what you may and may not do on your organization’s behalf. Please note that court staff cannot advise you on this issue.

4 Small Claims Guide When you file against a business, you must determine whether it is a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or a corporation. To find out, contact the Ohio Secretary of State’s office -call 614-466-2655 or visit www.sos.state.oh.us. You might also find out from the county auditor, who maintains records of vendor’s licenses, or from the county recorder, who may have records about partnerships.

Where do I file my claim?

Your claim must be filed in the small claims division of a municipal court or county court that has jurisdiction in your case.

To determine which court has jurisdiction, you use one of two


1. A small claims court has jurisdiction if the transaction or incident on which your claim is based took place in that court’s territory.

2. Regardless of where the transaction or incident took place, a small claims court also has jurisdiction if the defendant (the person or organization sued) - or any one defendant, if there is more than one - lives or has his or her or its principal place of business in the court’s territory.

This means that more than one court may have jurisdiction in your case. If so, you can choose which of those courts to file in.

Check the territorial boundaries of each court that may have jurisdiction. You can do this by calling each court that may have jurisdiction and asking whether the locations of 1 and 2 above are within the court’s jurisdiction. File your claim with a court that has jurisdiction.

How do I file my claim?

You begin a lawsuit on a small claim by filing a formal statement of claim with the small claims court. Your statement must contain a description of the nature and amount of your claim.

Small Claims Guide 5 Before you file the formal claim, it is a good idea (but not required) to make a last effort to settle the dispute. You can do this by sending the potential defendant(s) a letter by certified mail, return receipt requested. Your letter can be elaborate or simple. At a minimum, your letter should summarize the basic facts of your claim and state the amount of money you want. After reading your letter, the defendant might pay the claim or offer a sensible compromise.

If you decide to go ahead with a small claims lawsuit, contact the municipal court or county court that has jurisdiction. Ask about the court’s business hours, the cost of filing a small claims court case, and whether there are any other local requirements for filing a small claims case. Remember that court staff cannot give legal advice or in any way assess the claim you intend to file. But they may and can explain what you need to bring with you to file a claim.

If your claim cannot be filed in that court, ask for the name, address, and telephone number of the proper court and contact that court.

When you go to the court to file your case, you need to bring at

least the following information:

1. The full name (and business name, if applicable), address, and telephone number of the defendant;

2. A list of the evidence you have that supports your claim. Some courts ask that you file your evidence with your claim but others do not - ask before you arrive at court to file, and keep copies of anything you file;

3. The names and addresses of all of your witnesses; and

4. Enough cash to pay the filing fee.

Your court may ask for additional information or items - be sure to ask before you arrive to file your claim.

In most courts you make your claim by completing a form designated for small claims. Be sure to fill in the form completely. Use clear language. Write or print legibly. State the nature, circumstances, and amount of your claim as briefly as possible.

–  –  –

When you state the amount of your claim, consider whether • you want interest on any judgment and reimbursement for all court costs. If you do, be sure your complaint asks for damages, interest on your damages, and reimbursement of all court costs, including those incurred in enforcing a judgment (i.e., in getting payment from the other party). Note that Ohio law does not permit you to recover wages for time lost for preparing or filing your case or for appearing in court.

Find out whether the defendant is on active military duty:

• federal law provides some protection for those who are on active duty, and the court will ask about the defendant’s military status.

• The court must officially notify the defendant that he or she is being sued, and it is your responsibility to provide an address where the defendant can be reached. The official notice must be delivered to - or “served on” - the defendant(s). The usual way to accomplish service is certified mail to the defendant’s home or business address. The return receipt, signed by anyone 16 years of age or older, will provide proof of service. The case can then proceed. However, if the certified letter is returned undelivered, the case cannot proceed. If that happens, check with court staff about other ways to accomplish service.

How much does it cost?

Each court has established a filing fee. Call the court and ask what the fee is. If you plan to subpoena a witness, ask for information about the costs required.

If you cannot afford these fees, you may file an affidavit of indigency with the court and ask that your fees be waived. Court staff can provide you with instructions for how to file such an affidavit. The court will let you know whether your affidavit was accepted. If the court is satisfied that you cannot afford these fees, you may file without fees. But if the court is not satisfied, you will need to pay the fees.

–  –  –

How long does it take?

When you file a case, the court is required to set an initial hearing date that is no sooner than 15 days after the filing date and no later than 40 days after the filing date. Subsequent developments may delay that date somewhat, but in general you can estimate that your case will be heard within 40 days.

I’ve been sued! What do I do?

If someone has filed a small claim against you, the court will send you official notice. The notice and its attachments will give you important information: the name and address of the plaintiff, the basis and amount of the claim, the name and address of the court in which the claim was filed, and the date and time you must appear in court to resolve the claim.

The official notice from the court will also tell you how to respond to the plaintiff ’s claim. Of course, the nature of your response depends on what you think about the claim that is being made. But whatever you think, be sure to carefully follow the instructions from the court about how to file the response you believe is appropriate.

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