Coffee County Small Claims Court
What types of cases are filed in Coffee County Small Claims Court?
Here are examples of cases that are often found in small claims court:
- Renter does not or will not ay for damages to rental property
- 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 pay back money which was loaned
- Dry cleaning business damages or loses items and refuses to pay for damage or loss
Defendant’s Time to Answer
After the plaintiff files the claim, the magistrate court will serve the defendant with a copy of the claim (including the sworn statement) and a summons (with the date and time of the hearng) to appear in court. From that point, the defendant has thirty days to respond or answer.
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 Coffee 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.
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.
The defendant is able to sue 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. A defendant’s counterclaim is generally heard at the same time and date as the plaintiff’s original claim.
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 are agreeable to settling the case through mediation, a plaintiff may still ask the defendant to pay court costs. 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 both (or all parties) are done presenting evidence, the judge will issue a decision. The judge may award damages to the plaintiff, defendant, or both depending on the facts of the case.
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.
- The court can continue the case to a later date
- 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.
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 is asking for non-monetary damages (like property), the court has to conduct a separate hearing to determine the dollar amount of the damages. The defendant has only thirty days to respond to the caim. Once this time period passes, the defendant is in “default.”
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.
Coffee County Court Location
Coffee County Court Location
The Coffee County magistrate court is located at:825 Thompson Drive Douglas, GA 31535
It can be reached by telephone at: 912-384-1381. The fax number is 912-383-0800. The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Annemarie H. Fussell.
Can I hire an attorney for my Coffee County Small Claims Court case?
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 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.
How can I file a claim?
A plaintiff (person who starts the claim or lawsuit) must file a sworn statement with the clerk of the appropriate magistrate court. The sworn statement describes the charges made against the defendant (the person or business that is being sued by the plaintiff). The sworn statement should usually include the following:
- 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)
- Amount of money plaintiff is seeking (sometimes called damages)
- 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)
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).
- Speak with all witnesses you intend to call to support your case. You should confirm they are available and willing to appear on the hearing date.
- If a witness is not cooperative or is not willing to appear, prepare a subpoena.
- 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 Coffee County.
Can I file my case in Coffee County?
If the defendant is a person, the case must be filed in the County where they live. If you are suing a corporation, you must file your case in the County where the registered agent for service of process is located. To find the registered agent, contact the Corporations Division of the Secretary of State either online or at 404-656-2817. If you are suing an unincorporated business, you must file the case where the business is physically located. If the business is in Coffee County, you can file here.
The plaintiff must also pay a filing fee. The filing fee includes the cost to serve one defenant. Filing fees vary county to county but are 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 Coffee County Clerk for the Magistrate Court can help you complete the necessary forms but CANNOT give 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. Additionally, the clerk will not be able to tell you if they think you will win your case (so don’t bother asking).
Similarly, if you need additional documents that are not in your possession, you can issue a subpoena for the documents as well.