Echols County Small Claims Court
Appealing 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 needs to be filed within thirty days of the court’s decision.
Echols County Court Location
The magistrate court for Echols County is located at:P.O. Box 118 Statenville, GA 31648
It can be reached by telephone at: 229-559-7526. The fax number is 229-559-8128. The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Carlos L. Rodgers, Jr..
What are the procedures for filing a case?
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. 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 strees address of 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)
- 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)
The magistrate or small claims court was designed so that disputes under a certain amount ($15,000) could be handled informally. They are designed to quickly and inexpensively settle the dispute.
Hearing Date for my Small Claims Case
The court selects the hearing date after the defendant responds to the claim in Echols County. The date for the hearing is generally 15 to 30 days after the defendant files his or her answer.
Can I file my case in Echols County?
If the defendant is a person, the case must be filed in the County where they live. If the defendant is a corporation, the claim must be filed in the county of the registered agent for the company. (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 you are suing an unincorporated business, you must file the case where the business is physically located. If the business is in Echols County, you can file 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 Echols County Clerk for the Magistrate Court can help you complete the necessary forms but CANNOT give 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.
When a defendant fails to appear at the hearing or respond to the claim, the court can grant a default judgment. If it is granted, the plaintiff is entitled to the amount of damages asked for in the suit, plus 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 claim. Once this time period passes, the defendant is in “default.”
What types of cases are filed in Echols County Small Claims Court?
Here are some examples of common case types which are filed in Echols County Small Claims court:
- A tenant refuses to pay for damages which are more than the security deposit
- A landlord wants to evict a tenant for failure to pay rent
- Tenant moves out and landlord refuses to return security deposit
- Failure of a merchant to deal with faulty merchandise
- A person who borrowed money refuses to return it
- Dry cleaning business damages or loses items and refuses to pay for damage or loss
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)
- 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 is not cooperative or is not willing to appear, 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. A subpoena can be obtained from the clerk’s office.
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. The defendant has 30 days to respond or answer the claim.
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 will likely be heard the same day as the plaintiff’s claim.
Hearing Procedures and Mediation
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 mediation is successful, a plaintiff can still seek to recover court costs. If mediation is not successful, the case will proceed to the hearing. The court takes in evidence and provides for all parties for an opportunity to present their case. 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:
- The court can allow defendant to put on his or her evidence and then issue a decision without hearing from the plaintiff.
- Postpone the case until a later date
- The court can dismiss the case
If the defendant fails to appear at the hearing, the court may grant a default judgment against the defendant. 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).
Do I need to 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 can file the case on your own (without retaining an attorney). 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.