DeKalb County Small Claims Court
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.
What’s a default judgment?
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. An additional hearing by the court will be necessary if the plaintiff asked for something that does not have a specific dollar amount. The defendant has a 30 day window to respond to plaintiff’s claim. Once this time period passes, the defendant is in “default.”
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 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.
When will my hearing date be?
In DeKalb 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.
Locations for DeKalb County Small Claims Court
Locations for DeKalb County Small Claims Court
The DeKalb County magistrate court is located at:556 N. McDonough St Suite 1200 Decatur, GA 30030
It can be reached by telephone at: 404-371-4766. The fax number is 404-371-2986. The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Berryl A. Anderson.
Which County do I file my case in?
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. To find the registered agent, contact the Corporations Division of the Secretary of State either online or at 404-656-2817. 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 DeKalb County, file it here).
The plaintiff must also pay a filing fee which is submitted along with the initial paperwork (the sworn statement). This filing fee includes the cost for the clerk to serve one defendant. The actual filing fee varies amongst counties but is usually 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 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. A clerk would be able to review your forms to make sure there is a signature in the appropriate blanks but will not be able to tell you which party you should sue. The clerk will also not be able to tell you whether he or she believes you will win your case.
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 usually include the following:
- 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)
- Include the name and street address of the defendant (this is what the court will use to serve the defendant)
- Amount of money plaintiff is seeking (sometimes called damages)
- Detail why the defendant is being sued (and why this defendant owes the money)
- Copies of all relevant documents regarding the claim (for example, any contracts, receipts, etc.)
- 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
- Renter moves out and Owner fails to return deposit
- Failure of a merchant to deal with faulty merchandise
- A person who borrowed money refuses to return it
- Business loses or damages personal property and refuses to pay
- A mechanic charges for work not completed, unnecessary repairs, or poor workmanship.
- Make sure you have copies of all the documents you need for your case. Prepare copies to provide to the opposing party and the court.
- 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 in preparing your documents you find that you need additional documents, you can subpoena documents from other parties as well.
- 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. You can obtain a subpoena from the DeKalb County Clerk for the Magistrate Court.
Small Claims courts are also called Magistrate Courts in DeKalb County. These courts are used to resolve disputes if the parties are unable to resolve the dispute.
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.
Do I need to hire an attorney?
County cases, you may hire an attorney to represent you but are not required to do so. You are able to file the case on your own completely without the assistance of an attorney. Small Claims court judges are heard and decided without a jury. Some courts utilize mediation as a tool to resolve a case without the time and expense of a trial. Some counties will even require a case to attempt to be settled at mediation prior to it being set for trial.
What are the hearing procedures?
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 mediation is not successful, the case will proceed to the hearing. The court will also allow the plaintiff and defendant to question or dispute each other’s evidence during the hearing. 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.
The court has several options if the plaintiff does not appear at the hearing:
- Allow the defendant to present evidence and render a decision without hearing from plaintiff
- Postpone the case until 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.
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.
Which Types of Cases are Usually filed in DeKalb County Small Claims Court?
Here are some examples of common case types which are filed in DeKalb County Small Claims court:
Preparing for the Hearing
Prior to the hearing you should: