Ben Hill County Small Claims Court
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 way for both parties to meet with an independent third party who can evaluate the case and try to reach a settlement that is agreeable to both 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.). If the parties cannot agree to settle the case, the the court will hear arguments presented by the plaintiff and the defendant. The court will also allow the plaintiff and defendant to question or dispute each other’s evidence during the hearing. When all parties are finished presenting their evidence, the court will render a decision. The court could award damages to the plaintiff, the defendant, or both depending on the merits of the case.
The court has several options if the plaintiff does not appear at the hearing:
- 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 power to grant a default judgment against the defendant. It is called a default judgment because the plaintiff wins the case by “default.” We recommend making sure you attend the hearing regardless of whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant (regardless of whether you think the case is good or bad).
If the defendant fails to appear at the hearing or respond to the claim, the judge can issue a default judgment against the defendant. 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 claim. Once this time period passes, the defendant is in “default.”
Types of Cases Filed in Ben Hill County Small Claims Court
Here are examples of cases that are often found in small claims court:
- A tenant refuses to pay for damages which are more than the security deposit
- Renter fails to pay rent or Owner seeks to evict renter
- Renter moves out and Owner fails to return deposit
- A merchant refuses to repair, replace, or refund 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
Can I hire an attorney for my Ben Hill County Small Claims Court case?
You may hire an attorney but you are not required to. You can file the case on your own (without retaining an attorney). All cases are tried and heard before a judge, without a jury. You should remember that the procedures and rules for small claims court cases are designed so that a party should not need to have to retain an expensive attorney in order for their case to be effectively presented. Sometimes, mediation is recommended or required before the judge will hear the case.
Preparing for the Hearing
We recommend taking the following steps to prepare for your hearing:
- Collect all the documents you need for your case. Also prepare extra copies for the judge and other party (or parties)
- Contact any witnesses you need to call to prove your case and confirm that they will appear on the hearing date
- 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 command from the court for a person or documents to appear at a certain time and date to give testimony or produce evidence. A subpoena can be obtained from the clerk’s office of the Magistrate Court for Ben Hill County.
In Ben Hill County, small claims court is sometimes called magistrate court. If a dispute arises between parties that cannot be resolved, a party can file the matter in magistrate court.
Small Claims courts handle cases where the amount in dispute is less than $15,000.00. The process is designed to be quick and inexpensive.
Yes. 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 will likely be heard the same day as the plaintiff’s claim.
Locations for Ben Hill County Small Claims Court
The magistrate court for Ben Hill County is located at:PO Box 1163 Fitzgerald, GA 31750
The court can be reached by telephone at: 229-426-5140 and fax at 229-426-5640. The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Romelle L. Green, Jr..
How can I file a claim?
The plaintiff (or person filing the action) needs to file a sworn statement with the magistrate court clerk in the proper county. The sworn statement simply spells out the claims made against the defenant and includes the facts on which the claim is based. The sworn statement should include the following details:
- As the plaintiff, include your name, address, and telephone number (and your attorney’s if you retain one)(This is to ensure the court and other parties can contact you should the need arise).
- Name and street address of the defendant (this is what the court uses to serve the defendant)
- The amount of money the plaintiff is requesting
- Explain why the defendant is being sued (and why the defendant owes the money)
- Include copies of all documents relevant to the claim (perhaps a contract for the purchase of a product, or lease)(Keep the originals with you for when you appear at the court trial)
When will my hearing date be?
The court will select a hearing date after the defendant files an answer to the claim. Hearing dates are usually 15 to 30 days after the date the answer was filed.
Can I file my case in Ben Hill County?
If you are suing a person, you must file the case in the County where they live. If the defendant lives in Ben Hill County, you can file the case in this County. If you are suing a corporation, you must file your case in the County where the registered agent for service of process is located. In order to find the registered agent for service of process, contact the contact the Corporations Division of the Secretary of State either online or at 404-656-2817. If the business you are suing is unincorporated, you should file the case in the County where the business is physically located.
The plaintiff must also pay a filing fee. 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 will be an extra charge for the court to serve the additional party. The extra charge is usually between $25 to $35 and caries by county.
The court clerk can direct you to the necessary forms and will check them for completeness once you have filled them out. However, the clerk is prohibited by law from giving legal advice. For example, a clerk could review your forms to make sure there is a signature where it is required but cannot tell you who you should name as a defendant. Also, the clerk will not be able to tell you if they think you will win.
How Much Time Does a Defendant Have 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. The defendant has 30 days to respond or answer the claim.
How do I appeal a judgment?
If you are not happy with the court’s decision (and generally at least one party, sometimes both, are not satisfied with the judgment), the party may file an appeal (or ask a higher court to review the judgment). The appeal is heard in the state or superior court of Ben Hill County. Either party may request a jury trial for purposes of the appeal (something which is unavailable at the magistrate court level). The appeal must be filed within thirty days of the court’s decision.