Pierce 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 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 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 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:
- The court can allow defendant to put on his or her evidence and then issue a decision without hearing from the plaintiff.
- continue the case.
- The court can 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.” The lesson to be learned is make sure you attent the hearing regardless of whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant.
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. 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 caim. If the defendant fails to respond, the defendant is in default.
What types of cases are filed in Pierce 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
- Tenant fails to pay rent and landlord wants to evict tenant
- Tenant moves out and landlord refuses to return security deposit
- Failure of a merchant to deal with faulty merchandise
- Borrower refuses to make payments on a loan
- Business loses or damages personal property and refuses to pay
- Automobile shop conducts unnecessary repairs or work on your car
Filing Procedures for Pierce 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 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:
- 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).
- 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
- Detail why the defendant is being sued (and why this defendant owes the money)
- Copies of all relevant documents regarding the claim (for example, any contracts, receipts, etc.)
- 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.
- 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.
When will my hearing date be?
The court selects the hearing date after the defendant responds to the claim in Pierce County. The date for the hearing is usually fifteen to thirty days after the defendant files an answer.
Small Claims courts are also called Magistrate Courts in Pierce County. These courts are used to resolve disputes if the parties are unable to resolve the dispute.
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.
Pierce County Court Location
The magistrate court for Pierce County is located at:
It can be reached by telephone at: 912-449-2027. The fax number is 912-449-2103. The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Glenda Dowling.
Is Pierce County the “proper” County for my case?
If you are suing a person, you must file the case in the County where they live. If the defendant lives in Pierce 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. (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 you are suing an unincorporated business, you must file the case where the business is physically located. If the business is in Pierce County, you can file here.
The plaintiff must also pay a filing fee. 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 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. Additionally, the clerk will not be able to tell you if they think you will win your case (so don’t bother asking).
How do I appeal a judgment?
If a party is not satisfied with the court’s decision, that party may file an appeal. The appeal will be heard in the state or superior court of Pierce County. For the appeal, either party may request a jury trial (remember you aren’t entitled to a jury trial in magistrate court). The appeal needs to be filed within thirty days of the court’s decision.
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.
How does the defendant learn of the case?
After the case is filed the court clerk 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 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 completely without the assistance of 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.
How should I prepare for the hearing?
We recommend taking the following steps to prepare for your hearing:
Similarly, if you need additional documents that are not in your possession, you can issue a subpoena for the documents as well.