Terrell County Small Claims Court
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 is asking for non-monetary damages (like property), the court has to conduct a separate hearing to determine the dollar amount of the damages. The defendant has only thirty days to respond to the caim. Once defendant fails to respond, the defendant is in “default.”
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, without the assistance of an attorney (again, the process was designed to be inexpensive). 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). Sometimes, mediation is recommended or required before the judge will hear the case.
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 Terrell 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.
Is Terrell 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. 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.
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 actual filing fee varies amongst counties but is usually 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 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. The clerk will also not be able to tell you whether he or she believes you will win your case.
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. If the parties cannot agree to settle the case, the the court will hear arguments presented by the plaintiff and the defendant. 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 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:
- 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
- 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.
Terrell County Court Location
The magistrate court for Terrell County is located at:P.O. Box 793 Dawson, GA 39842
The court can be reached by telephone at: 229-995-3757 and fax at 229-995-4496. The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Linda Freeman.
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.
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. 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).
- Name and strees address of 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)
- 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 types of cases are filed in Terrell County Small Claims Court?
These are some examples of the types of cases that are filed in magistrate 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
Can the Defendant sue the Plaintiff?
Yes. 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.
How should I prepare for the hearing?
We recommend taking the following steps to prepare for your hearing:
- Collect all the documents you need for your case. Also prepare extra copies for the judge and other party (or parties)
- Speak with all witnesses you intend to call to support your case. You should confirm they are available and willing to appear on the hearing date.
- 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.
You can obtain a subpoena from the Terrell County Clerk for the Magistrate Court.
How do I pick a hearing date?
The court selects the hearing date after the defendant responds to the claim in Terrell County. The date for the hearing is usually fifteen to thirty days after the defendant files an answer.
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. The defendant has 30 days to respond or answer the claim.