Dougherty County Small Claims Court
How does the defendant learn of the case?
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 will be heard in the state or superior court of Dougherty County. For the appeal, either party may request a jury trial (remember you aren’t entitled to a jury trial in magistrate court). The appeal needs to be filed within thirty days of the court’s decision.
What are the hearing procedures?
Some counties require the parties to attempt to resolve the case through mediation before the court hears the case (assuming 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.). In the event the mediation does not resolve the claim, 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 all parties are finished presenting their evidence, the court will render a decision. 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 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 power to grant a default judgment against the defendant. It is called a default judgment because the plaintiff wins the case by “default.” It is strongly recommended you attend the hearing whether you are the plaintiff or defendant (regardless of whether you believe the case to be strong or weak).
Dougherty County Court Location
The magistrate court for Dougherty County is located at:P.O. Box 1827 Albany, GA 31702
It can be reached by telephone at: 229-431-3216. The fax number is 229-434-2692. The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Baxter C. Howell.
Can I file my case in Dougherty County?
The case must be filed in the County where the defendant (or the person you are suing) lives. If the defendant lives in Dougherty 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. 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 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 Dougherty County, file it here).
The plaintiff must also pay a filing fee. This filing fee includes the cost for the clerk to serve one defendant. Filing fees vary county to county but are 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. This extra charge could be between $25 and $35.
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. Additionally, the clerk will not be able to tell you if they think you will win your case (so don’t bother asking).
Can I hire an attorney?
You may hire an attorney but you are not required to. You are able to file the case on your own, without the assistance of an attorney (again, the process was designed to be inexpensive). Small Claims court judges are heard and decided without a jury. 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.
What are the procedures for filing a case?
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. At a minimum, the sworn statement should include the following facts:
- 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)
- 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 documents relevant to the claims (Keep the originals for your hearing)
When will my hearing date be?
In Dougherty 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.
Which Types of Cases are Usually filed in Dougherty County Small Claims Court?
Which Types of Cases are Usually filed in Dougherty County Small Claims Court?
These are some examples of the types of cases that are filed in magistrate court:
- A tenant refuses to pay for damages which are more than the security deposit
- Tenant fails to pay rent and landlord wants to evict tenant
- 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
- A mechanic charges for work not completed, unnecessary repairs, or poor workmanship.
The magistrate or small claims court was designed so that disputes under a certain amount ($15,000) could be handled informally. The process is designed to be quick and inexpensive.
How do I prepare for the hearing?
Prior to the hearing you should:
- Collect all the documents you need for your case. Also prepare extra copies for the judge and other party (or parties)
- 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 will not agree to appear, you need to subpoena them. Similarly, if you need additional documents that are not in your possession, you can issue a subpoena for the documents as well.
- 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. You can obtain a subpoena from the Dougherty County Clerk for the Magistrate Court.
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 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 claim. Once defendant fails to respond, the defendant is in “default.”
The defendant is able to sue 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 will likely be heard the same day as the plaintiff’s claim.