Haralson County Small Claims Court
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 Haralson 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.
Can the Defendant sue the Plaintiff?
Yes. This is called a counterclaim. The defendant can file this against the plaintiff’s original claim if the defendant’s claim is related to the plaintiff’s initial claim and the amount asked for by the defendant is less than $15,000. A defendant’s counterclaim is generally heard at the same time and date as the plaintiff’s original claim.
Is Haralson 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 Haralson 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. (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 the business you are suing is unincorporated, you should file the case in the County where the business is physically located.
Plaintiff has to also pay a filing fee which is submitted with the initial paperwork. A portion of the filing fee is for the cost for the court clerk to serve one defendant. The filing fee varies by each county but is 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. For example, a clerk could review your forms to make sure there is a signature where it is required but cannot tell you who you should name as a defendant. Also, the clerk will not be able to tell you if they think you will win.
Hearing Date for my Small Claims Case
The court selects the hearing date after the defendant responds to the claim in Haralson County. The date for the hearing is generally 15 to 30 days after the defendant files his or her answer.
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.
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.
Locations for Haralson County Small Claims Court
The magistrate court for Haralson County is located at:PO Box 1040 Buchanan, GA 30113
The court can be reached by telephone at: 770-646-2015 and fax at 770-646-6627. The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Brandon Heath.
Procedures for the Hearing
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 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:
- 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
- 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.
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. At a minimum, the sworn statement should include the following facts:
- 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 strees address of 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)
Can I hire an attorney?
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 a default judgment is entered, the plaintiff is awarded the amount that was requested in the claim along with 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 a 30 day window to respond to plaintiff’s claim. If the defendant fails to respond, the defendant is in default.
Preparing for the Hearing
Prior to the hearing you should:
- Ensure you have all copies of any documents you need for the case. You should make at least two additional sets of copies (one for the court and one for the other party).
- 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. A subpoena can be obtained from the clerk’s office.
What types of cases are filed in Haralson County Small Claims Court?
These are some examples of the types of cases that are filed in magistrate court:
- Renter does not or will not ay for damages to rental property
- Renter fails to pay rent or Owner seeks to evict renter
- Tenant moves out and landlord refuses to return security deposit
- Failure of a merchant to deal with faulty merchandise
- Borrower refuses to pay back money which was loaned
- Dry cleaning business damages or loses items and refuses to pay for damage or loss
- A mechanic charges for work not completed, unnecessary repairs, or poor workmanship.