Evans County Small Claims Court
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 it is granted, the plaintiff is entitled to the amount of damages asked for in the suit, plus 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.”
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 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 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 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 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.
- Postpone the case until a later date
- The court can 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.” 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).
Can the Defendant sue the Plaintiff?
Yes. 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 of the defendant is generally heard by the magistrate court at the same time as the plaintiff’s initial claim.
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)
- Contact any witnesses you need to call to prove your case and confirm that they will appear on the hearing date
- If a witness is not cooperative or is not willing to appear, prepare a subpoena.
- 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 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 Evans County.
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 is heard in the state or superior court of Evans County. Either party may request a jury trial for purposes of the appeal (something which is unavailable at the magistrate court level). Appeals must be filed within 30 days of the judge’s decision.
Evans County Court Location
The Evans County magistrate court is located at:Courthouse Annex Seven Freeman Street Claxton, GA 30417
It can be reached by telephone at: 912-739-3745. The fax number is 912-739-8856. The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Larry S. Anderson.
Which Types of Cases are Usually filed in Evans 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
- Renter fails to pay rent or Owner seeks to evict renter
- Landlord fails to return the security deposit to the tenant
- A Merchant fails to address issues with faulty merchandise
- Borrower refuses to make payments on a loan
- A dry cleaner will not pay for clothing which was damaged or lost
- Automobile shop conducts unnecessary repairs or work on your car
When will my hearing date be?
In Evans County, the court selects the hearing date after the defendant responds to the claim. Hearing dates are usually 15 to 30 days after the date the answer was filed.
Filing Procedures for Evans Small Claims Court cases
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 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:
- 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)
- Include the amount of money you are asking for as the plaintiff
- Brief, succint statement detailing why the defendant is being sued (include dates of all relevant events)
- 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)
Is Evans County the “proper” County for my case?
The case must be filed in the County where the defendant (or the person you are suing) lives. If the defendant lives in Evans County, you may file the case in this County. 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 you are suing an unincorporated business, you must file the case where the business is physically located. If the business is in Evans County, you can file here.Evans County Small Claim courts may also be referred to as Magistrate Courts. If you are unable to settle a dispute with a person or business, the matter can be filed in magistrate court.
Plaintiff has to also pay a filing fee which is submitted with the initial paperwork. The filing fee includes the cost to serve one defenant. The actual filing fee varies amongst counties but is usually 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. The extra charge could is usually between $25-$35 (to serve the added party).
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. For example, the court clerk would be able to review your completed forms to make sure your signature is in the appropriate blanks but is not able to tell you which defendant you should sue. The clerk will also not be able to tell you whether he or she believes you will win your case.
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.
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). 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.
Defendant’s Time to Answer
After the case is filed, the clerk of the magistrate court serves the defendant with a copy of the claim along with a summons. After that, the defendant has thirty days to respond or answer the claim.