Lanier County Small Claims Court

Lanier County Small Claims Court

Do I need to hire an attorney?

In County cases, you may hire an attorney to represent you but are not required to do so. You can file the case on your own (without retaining an attorney). These cases are tried and heard in front of a judge, without a jury (again, they are designed so a party does not need to retain an expensive attorney to represent them in a case). Some courts utilize mediation as a tool to resolve a case without the time and expense of a trial. Some counties will even require a case to attempt to be settled at mediation prior to it being set for trial.

Can I file my case in Lanier County?

If you are suing a person, you must file the case in the County where they live. If the defendant lives in Lanier County, you can file the case in this County. If you are suing a corporation, you must file your case 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 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. The filing fee includes the cost to serve one defenant. Filing fees vary county to county but are generally between $45 and $55. There is an extra charge for service for any additional defendants (if you are suing more than one person). The extra charge is usually between $25 to $35 and caries by county.
The Lanier County Clerk for the Magistrate Court can help you complete the necessary forms but CANNOT give 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. Additionally, the clerk will not be able to tell you if they think you will win your case (so don’t bother asking).

Types of Cases Filed in Lanier County Small Claims Court

Here are some examples of common case types which are filed in Lanier County Small Claims court:

  • Renter does not or will not ay for damages to rental property
  • Renter fails to pay rent or Owner seeks to evict renter
  • Landlord fails to return the security deposit to the tenant
  • A merchant refuses to repair, replace, or refund faulty merchandise
  • Borrower refuses to make payments on a loan
  • Business loses or damages personal property and refuses to pay
  • A mechanic charges for work not completed, unnecessary repairs, or poor workmanship.

Lanier County Small Claims Court

Lanier County Small Claims Court

In Lanier County, small claims court is sometimes called magistrate court. If a dispute arises between parties that cannot be resolved, a party can file the matter in magistrate court.
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.

Appealing 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 Lanier County. On the appeal, either party may request a jury trial (something you cannot have at the magistrate court level). Appeals must be filed within 30 days of the judge’s decision.

Defendant’s Time to Answer

After the plaintiff files the claim, the magistrate court will serve the defendant with a copy of the claim (including the sworn statement) and a summons (with the date and time of the hearng) to appear in court. From that point, the defendant has thirty days to respond or answer.

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 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 the parties cannot agree to settle the case, the the court will hear arguments presented by the plaintiff and the defendant. The court will hear evidence and provide an opportunity for both the plaintiff and the defendant to introduce their evidence (and allow each side to comment on the evidence introduced by the other party). When both (or all parties) are done presenting evidence, the judge will issue a decision. 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.
  • The court can continue the case to a later date
  • 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).

Hearing Date for my Small Claims Case

The court selects the hearing date after the defendant responds to the claim in Lanier County. The date for the hearing is usually fifteen to thirty days after the defendant files an answer.

Can the Defendant sue 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. A defendant’s counterclaim is generally heard at the same time and date as the plaintiff’s original claim.

Preparing for the Hearing

Prior to the hearing you should:

  • 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 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 documnt which can be completed by you and issued by the court which commands a person to appear in court and may require them to bring certain documents to court as well.
  • A subpoena can be obtained from the clerk’s office of the Magistrate Court for Lanier County.

    Lanier County Court Location

    The magistrate court for Lanier County is located at:

    Lanier County Courthouse
    56 Main Street, Suite 10
    Lakeland, GA 31635

    The court can be reached by telephone at: 229-482-3668 and fax at 229-482-3680. The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Judy B. Mullis.

    How can I file a claim?

    A plaintiff (person who starts the claim or lawsuit) must file a sworn statement with the clerk of the appropriate magistrate court. The sworn statement simply spells out the claims made against the defenant and includes the facts on which the claim is based. 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 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
    • Explain why the defendant is being sued (and why the defendant owes the money)
    • Copies of all relevant documents regarding the claim (for example, any contracts, receipts, etc.)
    • Default Judgments

      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. 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. If the defendant fails to respond, the defendant is in default.

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