Small Claims Court
THIS INFORMATION IS DESIGNED TO PROVIDE PROCEDURAL INFORMATION ABOUT SMALL CLAIMS PROCEEDINGS; IT IS NOT INTENDED TO GIVE LEGAL ADVICE.
WHAT IS A SMALL CLAIM LAWSUIT?
Small Claims Court is for cases involving only money damages. It is not for cases seeking to require someone to do, not do, or cease doing something, nor for cases of fraud, libel, or slander. The maximum amount of money damages that can be claimed is $5,500. In most automobile accident cases, however, the limit is the amount not paid by insurance, not to exceed $1000.
BEFORE STARTING A SMALL CLAIMS LAWSUIT
Before starting a small claims lawsuit in the 17th District Court, you should be aware:
1. The defendant must reside, or do business in Redford Township or, the cause of action must have occurred in Redford Township, such as an auto accident.
2. By having your case tried in small claims, you give up the following rights:
A. the right to have an attorney represent you,
B. the right to a jury trial, and
C. the right to appeal to a higher court
3. The defendant(s), however, may choose not to give up their rights and may demand before or at the time of hearing that the case be transferred to the court’s regular civil division. If that should occur, you may want to consult an attorney.
4. The court staff will provide procedural assistance to either party, but staff members are not attorneys and cannot give legal advice.
5. You will be required to pay certain fees (described further on). You may also incur other out-of-pocket expenses (transportation, babysitter, etc.), and you may lose income in taking time off to appear in court which are not recoverable in a small claims judgment.
6. You may not be able to collect a money judgment awarded to you as; a judgment does not mean automatic payment. It simply means you have to prove to the satisfaction of the court that the person you sued owes you money. A person may not be able to pay, and sources of income such as welfare, unemployment compensation, and social security are not subject to garnishment. However, you do have six (6) years to collect.
FILING A SMALL CLAIMS LAWSUIT
To start a suit, obtain an "Affidavit and Claim" (DC 84) from the Clerk's Office (there is a fee of $1.00 per form), read and follow all instructions carefully. After filling out the form, file it with the Civil Division (signature must be notarized if not signing in front of a clerk). Carbon paper must be provided if not using a form packet. At this time you will be required to pay a filing fee of $30 if the claim is $600 or less, $50 if the claim is more than $600 but less than $1750 or $70 if the claim is more than $1750 but less than $5000. You will need to know the exact name and address of the person or business you are suing.
After the "Affidavit and Claim" is filed, the Civil Division will schedule a hearing date, indicate it on the form, and return a copy to you. The hearing date will be 30 to 45 days away to allow sufficient time for service of a copy upon the defendant(s). Service of process is obtained by utilization of a court officer/process server.
1. Personal Service – Redford - $30.00
Other Cities - $21 service fee plus mileage (for each defendant), prices available from Civil Clerk
2. separate check or money order made payable to Charles Wagner must be provided at the time of filing for service.
Defendants must be served seven days prior to the scheduled hearing date. If you have filed a small claims case, and the Court Officer is not able to make service, he will contact you with the status of your case. If the Court Officer is unable to serve the defendant at the address you provided on your lawsuit, it is your responsibility to obtain another address, renew your lawsuit with the new address, so that the Court Officer may obtain service. The Court Officer will charge $10.00 plus mileage for a bad address. If a Motion for Alternate Service is required, there is a $20.00 motion fee to the court and a $15.00 service fee to the Court Officer for postal verification and certified mailing. Please make the $15.00 service fee payable to Charles Wagner in the form of a Check or Money Order.
Prior to the hearing date, prepare by contacting any witnesses and gathering any evidence you have to support your claim. This may include such items as bills of sale, receipts, leases, accident reports, photographs, repair bills or estimates, promissory notes or contracts. If necessary, witnesses may be ordered to court by a subpoena; for this, you will have to pay a process server and provide the witness a fee in advance of $6 per half-day plus mileage, plus a $15.00 filing fee to the court.
SETTLEMENT PRIOR TO HEARING
Suits frequently arise as a result of the failure of parties to communicate with each other. Time and money can be saved if the parties reach settlement out of court prior to hearing. Should this occur, a Voluntary Dismissal form (MC 09), obtainable at the Civil Division, must be prepared and filed. If settlement was reached after the defendant was served, you are entitled to add filing and service fees to the amount owed.
On the day you are scheduled to appear, report to the front counter. Be there on time and bring all of your evidence and witnesses with you. When it is time to hear your case, the Judge will call your case number. One of the following may then occur:
1. The defendant appears, disagrees with your claim and (a) requests that the case be transferred to the General Civil Division, or (b) agrees to proceed with the hearing. If the case is transferred to the General Civil Division, the defendant must then file an answer in writing within 14 days of the transfer and a new pretrial date will be set.
2. The defendant appears and admits liability for your claim; a consent judgment is entered against the defendant.
3. The defendant fails to appear; if she or he was properly served, a default judgment is entered against the defendant after a hearing.
4. You fail to appear; the case is dismissed.
If both parties are present and the hearing is to proceed, the Judge will ask you to state your claim. In your own words, tell what happened and why you think the defendant owes you money. Present any evidence you may have brought with you. Your witnesses if any will then be allowed to tell what they know about the case. Next, the defendant will be given an opportunity to tell his/her side of the story, present any evidence, and call any witnesses. Each party should listen carefully to the other and not interrupt.
When the Judge has heard both sides, she will make a decision based on the law and the facts presented. If the Judge decides in your favor, a judgment will be entered awarding you money damages plus any allowable costs you have, such as filing, service and witness fees.
The Judge's decision is final and cannot be appealed. However, either party may file, within 21 days of the date of the judgment, a motion to modify or set it aside. No collection proceedings are then allowed until the Judge has heard and decided to rule on the motion.
COLLECTION OF JUDGMENT
If the other party (defendant) has the money and is present at the trial, she or he can pay you right then. If she or he does not have the money at that time and you both agree at the trial, the judge can set up a payment schedule. If the defendant is not present at the trial, the court will send a copy of the small claims judgment to the defendant. The judgment will order the defendant to pay you in full within 21 days.
Whether a judgment is by consent, default, or hearing, a defendant who cannot pay the judgment in a lump sum may file a "Petition and Order for Installment Payments" (MC 15) (forms available at the Civil Division). If granted, no wage garnishments may be filed as long as the payments are up to date.
If the defendant refuses to abide by the court's decision, there are various options available to you for collection:
1. Execution Against Property (MC 19) is a court proceeding allowing a court officer to seize property belonging to the defendant which can be sold to pay for your judgment.
2. Garnishment is a court procedure allowing you to collect your judgment directly from the defendant's wages, bank account, or other source such as income tax refunds. A Periodic Writ of Garnishment (MC 12) is used to garnish defendant's wages, rent payments or other debt on a periodic basis. A Non-Periodic Writ of Garnishment (MC 13) is used to garnish the defendant's bank account, or other property. Once money has been garnished under the non-periodic writ, the writ is no longer valid. Tax Garnishment (MC52) is used to garnish the defendant's State income tax refund.
3. All of these options require a $15.00 filing fee to the court.
To get an execution against property or a garnishment, you will first need to know where the defendant lives and works, what assets she or he has and where these assets are located, and any other information which identifies the defendant and his/her property.
If you don't have the information described above, you will need to order the defendant to appear in court for questioning through a process called discovery. You must wait 21 days after your small claims judgment was signed before you can file a discovery subpoena, MC 11, Subpoena (Order to Appear). There is a $15 filing fee and a service fee. A hearing will then be set before the Judge at which time the defendant will be required to disclose his/her income and assets.
SATISFACTION OF JUDGMENT
When the full amount of the judgment has been paid, you must file a Satisfaction of Judgment (MC 17) with the court. (forms available at the Civil Division).
All Forms - $1.00
Amount of Claim $0-$600 - $30.00
Amount of Claim $601-$1750 - $50.00
Amount of Claim $1751-$5000 - $70.00
Writs of Garnishment, Execution & Debtor Discovery Subpoena: $15.00
Personal Service – Redford – approximately $30.00
Other Cities – Please check with clerk for amount due at filing
Process with Incorrect Address: $10.00 plus mileage
*subject to change