Putnam County Small Claims Court
Do I need to 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. 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 do I prepare for the hearing?
We recommend taking the following steps to prepare for your 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.
- Contact any witnesses you need to call to prove your case and confirm that they will appear on the hearing date
- If a witness is not cooperative or is not willing to appear, 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 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. You can obtain a subpoena from the Putnam County Clerk for the Magistrate Court.
Can the Defendant File a Claim Against the Plaintiff?
The defendant is able to sue the plaintiff (this is called a counterclaim). The defendant can file a counterclaim against the plantiff’s original claim if it is related to it, and the total money claimed by the defendant is less than $15,000. The counterclaim will likely be heard the same day as the plaintiff’s claim.
Is Putnam 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 Putnam 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. 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 you are suing an unincorporated business, you must file the case where the business is physically located. If the business is in Putnam County, you can file here.
The plaintiff must also pay a filing fee. This filing fee includes the cost for the clerk to serve one defendant. Filing fees vary county to county but are generally 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 could is usually between $25-$35 (to serve the added party).
The Clerk for the Magistrate Court can direct you to the necessary forms (and review them for completeness) but 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).
What are the procedures for filing a case?
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 describes the charges made against the defendant (the person or business that is being sued by the plaintiff). 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)
- The amount of money the plaintiff is requesting
- Detail why the defendant is being sued (and why this defendant owes the money)
- 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)
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 only thirty days to respond to the caim. Once this time period passes, the defendant is in “default.”
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 in the state or superior court of Putnam County. On the appeal, either party may request a jury trial (something you cannot have at the magistrate court level). The appeal must be filed within thirty days of the court’s decision.
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.
Locations for Putnam County Small Claims Court
The magistrate court for Putnam County is located at:
The court can be reached by telephone at: 706-485-4306 and fax at 706-484-1814. The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Ellen I. Pierce.
How do I pick a hearing date?
In Putnam 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.
What are the hearing procedures?
Some counties require you to go to mediation before a hearing in front of a judge. 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 are agreeable to settling the case through mediation, a plaintiff may still ask the defendant to pay court costs. In the event the mediation does not resolve the claim, the case will proceed to the hearing. 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.
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 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.” 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).
What types of cases are filed in Putnam 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
- Tenant fails to pay rent and landlord wants to evict tenant
- Renter moves out and Owner fails to return deposit
- A Merchant fails to address issues with faulty merchandise
- Borrower refuses to pay back money which was loaned
- Business loses or damages personal property and refuses to pay
- Automobile shop conducts unnecessary repairs or work on your car
Small Claims courts handle cases where the amount in dispute is less than $15,000.00. They are designed to quickly and inexpensively settle the dispute.