Bryan County Small Claims Court
Can I hire an attorney?
We cannot tell you whether or not you should hire an attorney. However, you may hire an attorney if you wish, but are not required to do so. You are able to file the case on your own, without the assistance of an attorney (again, the process was designed to be inexpensive). 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. Mediation is a tool that is sometimes used to help resolve a case without a trial. Some counties offer this as a service, and some counties require a case be sent to mediation prior to it being heard at a trial.
How can I file a claim?
The case begins with the plaintiff filing 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. At a minimum, the sworn statement should include the following facts:
- The name, address, and telephone number of the plaintiff (and attorney if there is one)(Make sure this is correct as this is how the court will contact you if there are any issues)
- Name and street address of the defendant (this is what the court uses to serve the defendant)
- Amount of money plaintiff is seeking (sometimes called damages)
- 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?
A party that is not satisfied with the judge’s decision can file an appeal of that judgment. The appeal will be heard by either the state or superior court in the county. On the appeal, either party may request a jury trial (something you cannot have at the magistrate court level). The appeal must be filed within thirty days of the court’s decision.
Locations for Bryan County Small Claims Court
The magistrate court for Bryan County is located at:Box 670 Pembroke, GA 31321
It can be reached by telephone at: 912-653-3861. The fax number is 912-653-4603. The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Darrell Snider.
Procedures for the Hearing
Some counties require you to go to mediation before a hearing in front of a judge. 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.). 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 hear evidence and provide an opportunity for both the plaintiff and the defendant to introduce their evidence (and allow each side to comment on the evidence introduced by the other party). When both parties are done, the judge will issue a decision (or judgment). The judge may award damages to the plaintiff, defendant, or both depending on the facts of the case.
If the plaintiff does not appear at the hearing, the court may do any of the following:
- allow defendant the opportunity to put on evidence and issue a decision without the plaintiff present.
- continue the case.
- 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.” 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).
Small Claims courts handle cases where the amount in dispute is less than $15,000.00. They are designed to quickly and inexpensively settle the dispute.
Which County do I file my case in?
The case must be filed in the County where the defendant (or the person you are suing) lives. If the defendant lives in Bryan County, you may 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. (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 Bryan County, file it here).
The plaintiff must also pay a filing fee which is submitted along with the initial paperwork (the sworn statement). A portion of the filing fee is for the cost for the court clerk to serve one defendant. The filing fee varies by each county but is generally between $45 and $55. There is an extra charge for service for any additional defendants (if you are suing more than one person). 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, 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.
What types of cases are filed in Bryan County Small Claims Court?
These are some examples of the types of cases that are filed in magistrate court:
- Renter does not or will not ay for damages to rental property
- A landlord wants to evict a tenant for failure to pay rent
- Landlord fails to return the security deposit to the tenant
- Failure of a merchant to deal with faulty merchandise
- Borrower refuses to make payments on a loan
- Business loses or damages personal property and refuses to pay
- Automobile shop conducts unnecessary repairs or work on your car
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 a witness will not agree to appear, you need to subpoena them.
- 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 piece of paper completed by you and issued by the court which commands certain persons to appear in court and may direct them to bring documents with them or to produce evidence. A subpoena can be obtained from the clerk’s office of the Magistrate Court for Bryan County.
What’s a default judgment?
If the defendant fails to answer the claim or appear at the hearing, the judge can issue a default judgment without hearing from defendant. If a default judgment is granted, the plaintiff is entitled to what he or she asked for in the action and 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.”
Hearing Date for my Small Claims Case
The court selects the hearing date after the defendant responds to the claim in Bryan County. The date for the hearing is generally 15 to 30 days after the defendant files his or her answer.
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 this against the plaintiff’s original claim if it is related to the initial claim and the amount asked for by the defendant is les 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.
Defendant’s Time to Answer
After the case is filed the court clerk 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.