Baker County Small Claims Court
Do I need to hire an attorney?
Procedures for the Hearing
In some counties, the court requires both parties to attempt to resolve the case through mediation before the court will hear the case (if the mediation is unsuccessful). Mediation is a dispute resolution tool designed to try and resolve the case by meeting with an independent third party who can evaluate the case and try to reach a settlement that is agreeable to all parties. Even if the parties agree to settle the case out of court, the plaintiff may still ask the defendant to pay court costs (costs for filing the case, serving defendants, any subpoenas issues, etc.). In the event the mediation does not resolve the claim, the case will proceed to the hearing. The court takes in evidence and provides for all parties for an opportunity to present their case. When both parties are done, the judge will issue a decision (or judgment). The court may award damages to the plaintiff, defendant, both, or none of the parties depending on what the facts of the case warrant.
If the plaintiff fails to appear at the hearing, the court may:
- allow defendant the opportunity to put on evidence and issue a decision without the plaintiff present.
- continue the case.
- The court can dismiss the case
If the defendant does not show at the hearing, the court has the authority to grant a default judgment against the defendant. The name comes from the fact that because the defendant does not show, the plaintiff wins the case by “default.” The lesson to be learned is make sure you attent the hearing regardless of whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant.
Can the Defendant File a Claim Against the Plaintiff?
The defendant is able to issue a claim against the plaintiff. This is called a counterclaim. The defendant can file a counterclaim against the plantiff’s original claim if it is related to it, and the total money claimed by the defendant is less than $15,000. The counterclaim of the defendant is generally heard by the magistrate court at the same time as the plaintiff’s initial claim.
Baker County Court Location
The Baker County magistrate court is located at:P.O. Box 548 Newton, GA 39870
It can be reached by telephone at: 229-734-3007. The fax number is 229-734-3200. The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Angela Hendricks.
Small Claims courts are also called Magistrate Courts in Baker County. If you are unable to settle a dispute with a person or business, the matter can be filed in magistrate court.
The purpose of magistrate court is to resolve claims in an informal manner for any amount less than $15,000. The process is designed to be quick and inexpensive.
Defendant’s Time to Answer
After the case is filed, the clerk of the magistrate court serves the defendant with a copy of the claim along with a summons. From that point, the defendant has thirty days to respond or answer.
Filing Procedures for Baker Small Claims Court cases
A plaintiff (person who starts the claim or lawsuit) must file a sworn statement with the clerk of the appropriate magistrate court. A sworn statement states the claims made against the defendant and includes the facts giving rise to the claim. The sworn statement should include the following details:
- Name, address, and telephone number of the plaintiff (and attorney if the plaintiff has one)
- Include the name and street address of the defendant (this is what the court will use to serve the defendant)
- Include the amount of money you are asking for as the plaintiff
- Explain why the defendant is being sued (and why the defendant owes the money)
- Copies of all documents relevant to the claims (Keep the originals for your hearing)
How do I appeal a judgment?
If a party is not satisfied with the court’s decision, that party may file an appeal. The appeal will be heard in the state or superior court of Baker County. Either party may request a jury trial for purposes of the appeal (something which is unavailable at the magistrate court level). Appeals must be filed within 30 days of the judge’s decision.
What is a default judgment and why is it bad?
When a defendant fails to appear at the hearing or respond to the claim, the court can grant a default judgment. If a default judgment is entered, the plaintiff is awarded the amount that was requested in the claim along with court costs. If the plaintiff asks for damages that are not measured in money (like specific property), the court will likely conduct an additional hearing to place a dollar amount on the value of the property (or item being asked for). The defendant has only thirty days to respond to the caim. Once this time period passes, the defendant is in “default.”
What types of cases are filed in Baker County Small Claims Court?
Here are some examples of common case types which are filed in Baker County Small Claims court:
- Tenant does not and will not pay for damages caused to rental which are in excess of security deposit
- A landlord wants to evict a tenant for failure to pay rent
- Tenant moves out and landlord refuses to return security deposit
- A Merchant fails to address issues with faulty merchandise
- Borrower refuses to make payments on a loan
- Dry cleaning business damages or loses items and refuses to pay for damage or loss
Is Baker County the “proper” County for my case?
If the defendant is a person, the case must be filed in the County where they live. If the person you are suing is a corporation, the case must be filed in the County where the registered agent for service of process is located. (Contact the Corporations Division of the Secretary of State either online or at 404-656-2817 to find out if a business is a corproation and the name and address of the registered agent). If the defendant is an unincorporated business (fancy for is not a corporation), file the case in the county where the business is physically located (ie. if the business is located in Baker County, file it here).
The plaintiff must also pay a filing fee which is submitted along with the initial paperwork (the sworn statement). The filing fee includes the cost to serve one defenant. The filing fee varies by each county but is generally between $45 and $55. If an additional defendant is named in the action, there is an extra charge for serving the additional party. The extra charge is usually between $25 to $35 and caries by county.
The Clerk for the Magistrate Court can direct you to the necessary forms (and review them for completeness) but is prohibited by law from giving legal advice. For example, the court clerk would be able to review your completed forms to make sure your signature is in the appropriate blanks but is not able to tell you which defendant you should sue. Additionally, the clerk will not be able to tell you if they think you will win your case (so don’t bother asking).
How do I pick a hearing date?
In Baker County, the court selects the hearing date after the defendant responds to the claim. The date for the hearing is generally 15 to 30 days after the defendant files his or her answer.
Preparing for the Hearing
We recommend taking the following steps to prepare for your hearing:
- Ensure you have all copies of any documents you need for the case. You should make at least two additional sets of copies (one for the court and one for the other party).
- Communicate with any witnesses you intend to call to prove your case. Confirm they are available on the day of the hearing.
- If you need to bring in a witness to prove your case and the witness is not being cooperative with you, prepare a subpoena.
- If you need additional documents for your case, you can issue a subpoena for those documents to obtain documents from other parties.
- A subpoena is a documnt which can be completed by you and issued by the court which commands a person to appear in court and may require them to bring certain documents to court as well.
A subpoena can be obtained from the clerk’s office.