What is Small Claims Court?
Ohio law requires that each county in the State of Ohio establish a Small Claims Division generally known as Small Claims Court. The purpose of the Licking County 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 a Municipal Court Judge or by a Magistrate; court costs are lower than in other cases. The relative simplicity of Small Claims Court makes it easier for people to handle cases without attorneys. However, anyone who wishes to may bring an attorney to Small Claims Court.
What cases can Small Claims Court Handle?
Small Claims cases are like other lawsuits, except the amounts involved are generally too small to make the expense of regular court proceedings worthwhile. Small Claims Court can resolve many common disputes that involve modest amounts of money. Typical Small Claims Court cases include cases by tenants to recover security deposits, claims by landlord 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 damages sustained in minor accidents, claims by employees, babysitters, maids and handy persons for unpaid wages. There are limits on claims that can be resolved in Small Claims Court:
- 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.
- A claim cannot exceed $3,000 (not including any interest or court costs claimed). The claims itself can be for at most $3,000 and counter or cross claims that may be filed can only be for $3,000 or less.
- Regardless of the amount of money involved, the Small Claims Court cannot handle certain types of lawsuits: lawsuits based on liable slander and malicious prosecution, lawsuits seeking punitive or exemplary damages, or lawsuits brought by an ascendee or agent.
- Small Claims Courts cannot resolve claims against the agencies of the State of Ohio or against the United States Government and its agencies.
Who can sue or be sued in Small Claims Court?
In general, anyone 18 years or older can 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 case on your organizations 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. If you advocate in court on behalf of your organization, you may violate rules about the unauthorized practice of law. To avoid such a violation, contact an attorney to find out what you may and may not do on your organizations behalf.
Where do I file my claim?
Your claim must be filed in the Small Claims Division of the Licking County Municipal Court located at 40 West Main Street, Newark, Ohio, 4th Floor.
How do I file my claim?
You begin a lawsuit on a claim by filing a formal statement of claim with the Small Claims Court. Your statement must contain a description of the nature of your claim. When you go to court to file your case, you need to bring at least the following information:
- Full name, address, and telephone number of the Defendant;
- A list of the evidence that you have to support your claim;
- The names and addresses of all your witnesses; and
- Enough money to pay the filing fee.
How long does it take?
When you file a case, the court is required to set an initial hearing date no sooner than fifteen (15) days after the filing date and no later that forty (40) days after the filing date. Subsequent developments may delay the date somewhat, but in general, you can estimate that your case will be heard within forty (40) days.
I've been sued! What do I do?
If someone has filed a claim against you, the court will send you official notice. The notice and attachments will give you important information: the name and address of the Plaintiff, the amount and basis 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 tell you how to respond to the Plaintiffs claim. Of course, the nature of your response depends on what you think about the claim that is being made. But whatever you think, you should carefully follow the instructions from the court on how to file the response you believe is appropriate.
What is mediation?
In an attempt to resolve your case by agreement, the Small Claims Court will schedule your case for mediation to assist you and the other party to try and work out a settlement. The mediator is not a Judge or Magistrate and will not decide your case or give you legal advice. A mediation hearing will be scheduled where the Plaintiff and the Defendant are given the opportunity to discuss all aspects of their dispute and to settle it without having a formal court hearing about the claim. Mediation hearings are confidential. If mediation fails and the case proceeds to a formal court hearing, the information revealed in mediation may not be used in court. Mediation hearings are less formal than court hearings and consider a broad range of issues surrounding the legal claim: it may be the only chance you have to air all of your concerns, to hear the concerns of the other party, and to come to an agreement that concerns issues other than the money one party may owe the other. Through mediation, you may arrive at a solution that better suits your needs other than a court judgment.
What if the claim is settled before the hearing?
You filed a claim, and the Defendant paid you an agreed upon amount to settle your claim, you should notify the court in writing. Be sure to ask the court whether you need to fill out a specific form or can write your own statement that your claim has been settled. Your written notice of settlement will be made part of the record and your case will then be dismissed.
What if I do not appear at the hearing?
If you fail to appear, you may immediately lose, regardless of how well supported your claim or defense might be. If a party does not appear at a hearing and that party has not given the Judge good reason, the Judge can, and quite possibly will, decide the case in favor of the party attending the scheduled hearing. If you do not attend the hearing on the date the Court has scheduled, contact the court as soon as possible. Most courts require that you submit a request to postpone the hearing in writing, either in person or by fax. Another hearing date may be scheduled. If you are prevented from attending at the last minute, or if you will be late, call the court and explain the situation.
What do I do at the hearing?
The hearing is your day in court your opportunity to present your claim, defense, counterclaim, cross claim, or third party claim. Whether you win or lose, you are assured of a fair hearing. Both you and the other party will have an opportunity to present your case and your evidence to the court. Bring your evidence and witnesses with you. Bring enough copies of your documents, pictures, etc. Make sure your witnesses appear in person. Most courts do not accept written statements from witnesses and will not allow witnesses to appear by phone.
What if I disagree with the judgment?
If you disagree with the judgment in your case, it may be possible for you to continue the process. The practices and deadlines in this area vary from court to court so you need to ask the court how to proceed. If a Magistrate heard your case, you may file a written objection within fourteen (14) days of the filing of the Magistrates decision. Your objections will be reviewed by the Judge of the court according to the procedures established in that court. The Judge may affirm and adopt the Magistrates report or modify and enter a judgment, or order a new trial.
How do I get my money?
Even if you are awarded a judgment against the other party, the court will not get your money for you. However, if you take the required steps, including paying the relevant court costs, the court will help enforce your judgment. If the defendant does not voluntarily pay, you can get help from the court in one of three ways:
- You can garnish the defendants personal earnings or bank account;
- You can obtain a judgment lien against the defendants real estate; or
- You may attach and sell some of the defendants personal property.
If you need more information or assistance on filing or defending a small claim or collecting a judgment on a claim filed in Small Claims Court, please feel free to contact Deb Kraning, Small Claims Court Administrator at 740-670-7822.