Hancock County Small Claims Court
How do I prepare for the hearing?
The following steps are recommended to prepare for the hearing:
- 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.
- Communicate with any witnesses you intend to call to prove your case. Confirm they are available on the day of the hearing.
- 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 Hancock County Clerk for the Magistrate Court.
Can the Defendant sue the Plaintiff?
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. The counterclaim will likely be heard the same day as the plaintiff’s claim.
How can I file a claim?
The case begins with the plaintiff filing a sworn statement with the magistrate court clerk in the proper county. A sworn statement states the claims made against the defendant and includes the facts giving rise to the claim. The sworn statement should include the following details:
- 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)
- The amount of money the plaintiff is requesting
- 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)
Which Types of Cases are Usually filed in Hancock 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
- A landlord wants to evict a tenant for failure to pay rent
- Tenant moves out and landlord refuses to return security deposit
- A Merchant fails to address issues with faulty merchandise
- Borrower refuses to make payments on a loan
- Dry cleaning business damages or loses items and refuses to pay for damage or loss
- Unnecessary repairs or work done on a car by a mechanic
- Allow the defendant to present evidence and render a decision without hearing from plaintiff
- Postpone the case until a later date
- Dismiss the case
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 are agreeable to settling the case through mediation, a plaintiff may still ask the defendant to pay 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 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:
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).
How Much Time Does a Defendant Have 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. The defendant has 30 days to respond or answer the claim.
Can I hire an attorney for my Hancock County Small Claims Court case?
How do I pick a hearing date?
In Hancock 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.
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.
How do I appeal a judgment?
A party that is not satisfied with the judge’s decision can file an appeal of that judgment. The appeal is heard in the state or superior court of Hancock 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.
Locations for Hancock County Small Claims Court
The magistrate court for Hancock County is located at:
The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Shirley R. Ingram. The telephone number for the court is: 706-444-6234. The fax number is 706-444-6178.
Can I file my case in Hancock County?
If you are suing a person, you must file the case in the County where they live. If the defendant lives in Hancock County, you can file the case in this County. If the defendant is a corporation, the claim must be filed in the county of the registered agent for the company. 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 business you are suing is unincorporated, you should file the case in the County where the business is physically located.
The plaintiff must also pay a filing fee which is submitted along with the initial paperwork (the sworn statement). 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 is an extra charge for serving the additional party. 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. Also, the clerk will not be able to tell you if they think you will win.
What’s a default judgment?
If the defendant fails to appear at the hearing or respond to the claim, the judge can issue a default judgment against the defendant. If it is granted, the plaintiff is entitled to the amount of damages asked for in the suit, plus 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. If the defendant fails to respond, the defendant is in default.