Irwin County Small Claims Court
What are the hearing procedures?
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 an attempt to try and settle the case without a hearing. 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 (or all parties) are done presenting evidence, the judge will issue a decision. The court could award damages to the plaintiff, the defendant, or both depending on the merits of the case.
If the plaintiff does not appear at the hearing, the court may do any of the following:
- Allow the defendant to present evidence and render a decision without hearing from plaintiff
- continue the case.
- 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.” 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).
Can I hire an attorney?
You may hire an attorney but you are not required to. You can file the case on your own (without retaining an attorney). Small Claims court judges are heard and decided without a jury. Sometimes, mediation is recommended or required before the judge will hear the case.
Which Types of Cases are Usually filed in Irwin County Small Claims Court?
Here are some examples of common case types which are filed in Irwin County Small Claims court:
- Tenant does not and will not pay for damages caused to rental which are in excess of security deposit
- A landlord wants to evict a tenant for failure to pay rent
- Renter moves out and Owner fails to return deposit
- A merchant refuses to repair, replace, or refund 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
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 will be heard by either the state or superior court in the 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.
Irwin County Court Location
The Irwin County magistrate court is located at:301 S. Irwin Ave., Suite 102 Ocilla, GA 31774
The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Denise White. The telephone number for the court is: 229-468-7671. The fax number is 229-468-8444.
Hearing Date for my Small Claims Case
The court will select a hearing date after the defendant files an answer to the claim. The date for the hearing is generally 15 to 30 days after the defendant files his or her answer.
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. From that point, the defendant has thirty days to respond or answer.
Can the Defendant File a Claim Against the Plaintiff?
Yes. 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.
The purpose of magistrate court is to resolve claims in an informal manner for any amount less than $15,000. The process is designed to be quick and inexpensive.
Filing Procedures for Irwin Small Claims Court cases
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).
- Include the name and street address of the defendant (this is what the court will use to serve the defendant)
- Include the amount of money you are asking for as the plaintiff
- 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)
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)
- 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.
- 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. A subpoena can be obtained from the clerk’s office of the Magistrate Court for Irwin County.
Is Irwin County the “proper” County for my case?
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. 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 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. 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. 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. 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 a default judgment is granted, the plaintiff is entitled to what he or she asked for in the action and 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 only thirty days to respond to the claim. Once this time period passes, the defendant is in “default.”
Similarly, if you need additional documents that are not in your possession, you can issue a subpoena for the documents as well.