WHAT IS SMALL CLAIMS COURT?
- The Small Claims Court is a division of the District Court system. Its purpose is to provide a court to be used by people without the aid of an attorney to settle claims of $6,500.00 or less.
- A party may seek legal advice before or after a hearing, however they may not have an attorney represent them in court. Each party simply states their case in their own words and after both sides are heard, the Judge or Magistrate makes a ruling.
- The parties must comply with the Judge’s ruling. It is important to remember that a Judge’s decision is final in Small Claims Court. It cannot be appealed to a higher court. You must understand the following:
- Staff members of the court are not attorneys and therefore are not allowed to give any legal advice.
- The Judge, who is an attorney, may not and will not advise on matters that he may have to rule on.
- The Court can render only money Judgments and has no power to force anyone to do something or stop doing something.
STARTING A SMALL CLAIMS SUIT:
To start a Small Claims suit in Ionia County, the following must be true:
- The subject matter of the suit must be in Ionia County, the action must have occurred in Ionia County or the Defendant must reside in Ionia County.
- You (the Plaintiff) must have a direct interest in the suite.
- The claim may not exceed $6,500.00
You (the Plaintiff) cannot have:
- An attorney represent you in court.
- A jury decide your case.
- An appeal of the Judge’s decision.
The Defendant cannot be forced to waive these rights. If the Defendant refuses, the matter will be transferred to the General Civil Division of the District Court. This may not be known until the time of the hearing / trial.
THE PLAINTIFF IS RESPONSIBILE FOR PROVIDING THE COURT WITH THE FOLLOWING:
- Your full name and current address,
- Defendant’s name and current address,
- Amount of claim and pertinent dates,
- A statement as to the nature of the claim,
- A check, cash or money order for the amount of the filing fee (See the Fees, Costs and Fines section to determine if the filing fee will be $30.00, $50.00 or $70.00), and
- An additional service fee for EACH Defendant. Each Defendant is served with a copy of the Summons which is effected in one of two ways: 1). A copy is left with the Defendant personally by a court officer or process server, which has a fee of $26.00 plus mileage, or 2). Certified mail to addressee only with return receipt requested; if certified mail is not picked up by Defendant, the court cannot proceed. Certified mailing fee is $20.00.
SETTLEMENT PRIOR TO HEARING DATE:
If a settlement is made prior to Defendant being served with the Summons, you are not entitled to your court costs. If settlement is made after he is served, you are entitled to add your court costs to the Judgment amount (but the Judgment cannot exceed $6,500.00). If a lump sum settlement is not possible and you agree to installment payments, you must reduce the settlement to writing and it must be signed by both parties to avoid future disputes. If the claim is paid you should dismiss the suit.
HEARING / TRIAL DATE:
One of the following may occur: 1) Defendant may appear, refuse to submit to Small Claims Division and the matter will be transferred to the General Civil Division and a new trial date will be assigned, or 2) Defendant may appear, admit liability for your claim, and a Consent Judgment will be entered, or 3) Defendant may fail to appear, if the Court can determine that Defendant had proper notice, a Default Judgment will be entered, or 4) Defendant may appear, dispute the claim, agree to have it heard in Small Claims Division and a hearing and a trial will take place at that time.
ON THE DAY OF THE HEARING / TRIAL IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT YOU HAVE ALL PAPERS, PHOTOS, WITNESSES OR OTHER EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT YOUR CLAIM.
When your case is called the following will happen; 1) Plaintiff will be sworn in and will make a statement to the Judge as to why the Defendant is liable. Plaintiff may offer witnesses and evidence, 2) Defendant may then be sworn in and will make a statement to the Judge as to why he / she believes they are not liable. Defendant may offer witnesses and evidence, 3) Each party has the right to question the other party and their witnesses.
AFTER THE HEARING:
The Judge will render a decision after hearing both sides of the case, or in some circumstances, take the matter under advisement and a decision will be mailed to the parties. If Plaintiff prevails, the court costs are normally added to the amount of the Judgment.
The Court encourages the parties to agree amongst themselves how to pay the Judgment. If a lump sum is not possible the parties may agree to a payment plan. Any payment plan must be reduced to writing and signed by both parties and filed with the Court.
If an agreement cannot be reached the Defendant has a right to petition the Court to set the payments. Defendant is responsible for mailing a Motion for Installment Payments to the other parties. Once receiving the Motion, Plaintiff has 14 days to object to the motioned payment plan. If Plaintiff agrees to the payment plan presented by Defendant. If Plaintiff agrees to the payment plan presented by Defendant’s Motion, Plaintiff does not need to reply. If after 14 days Defendant has not received any notification of an Objection, then Defendant MUST file an Order for Installment Payments. Note that an Order for Installment Payments prevents Plaintiff from garnishing employment wages.
If settlement for payment is not reached after 21 days of the Judgment being entered, Plaintiff may file Garnishment.
To file Garnishment Plaintiff is responsible to provide the following information:
- Who owes Plaintiff money (this will be the Garnishee Defendant)
- Proper name and current address of the Garnishee Defendant
- The amount that the Principal Defendant still owes on the Judgment
- A filing fee in the amount of $15.00
- A Disclosure fee in the amount that is displayed on the form. (varies)
- A service fee in the amount of $26.00 plus mileage
- Certified mailing fee $20.00
All fees are subject to statutory changes
POINTS TO CONSIDER:
The Court is only a tool that is available to you for settling disputes. Plaintiff is responsible for locating the parties. In filing a Small Claims case, Plaintiff should consider the likelihood of collections. Situations such as welfare, unemployment, social security and other similar payments are not subject to garnishment. COLLECTION ABILITY SHOULD BE A PRIME CONSIDERATION PRIOR TO STARTING A SUIT.
A garnishment cannot be stopped unless the Plaintiff files a garnishment release. A garnishment cannot be issued prior to Judgment.