Towns County Small Claims Court
Hearing Procedures and Mediation
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 way for both parties to meet with an independent third party who can evaluate the case and try to reach a settlement that is agreeable to both 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 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 parties are done, the judge will issue a decision (or judgment). 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.
- 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.” 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).
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.
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.
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. A sworn statement states the claims made against the defendant and includes the facts giving rise to the claim. The sworn statement should usually include the following:
- 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
- Explain why the defendant is being sued (and why the defendant owes the money)
- Copies of all documents relevant to the claims (Keep the originals for your hearing)
When will my hearing date be?
The court selects the hearing date after the defendant responds to the claim in Towns County. The date for the hearing is usually fifteen to thirty days after the defendant files an answer.
Can I hire an attorney?
Can I hire an attorney?
You may hire an attorney but you are not required to. You are able to file the case on your own completely without the assistance of an attorney. All cases are tried and heard before a judge, without a jury. You should remember that the procedures and rules for small claims court cases are designed so that a party should not need to have to retain an expensive attorney in order for their case to be effectively presented. 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?
The following steps are recommended to prepare for the hearing:
- Collect all the documents you need for your case. Also prepare extra copies for the judge and other party (or parties)
- 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 will not agree to appear, you need to subpoena them. Similarly, if you need additional documents that are not in your possession, you can issue a subpoena for the documents as well.
- A subpoena is a command from the court for a person or documents to appear at a certain time and date to give testimony or produce evidence. A subpoena can be obtained from the clerk’s office.
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 is heard in the state or superior court of Towns County. For the appeal, either party may request a jury trial (remember you aren’t entitled to a jury trial in magistrate court). Appeals must be filed within 30 days of the judge’s decision.
Can the Defendant sue the Plaintiff?
The defendant is able to sue the plaintiff (this is called a counterclaim). The defendant can file this against the plaintiff’s original claim if the defendant’s claim is related to the plaintiff’s initial claim and the amount asked for by the defendant is less than $15,000. A defendant’s counterclaim is generally heard at the same time and date as the plaintiff’s original claim.
Can I file my case in Towns County?
If the defendant is a person, the case must be filed in the County where they live. 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 Towns County, you can file here.
Plaintiff has to also pay a filing fee which is submitted with the initial paperwork. This filing fee includes the cost for the clerk to serve one defendant. The filing fee varies by each county but is 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 Towns 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).
What’s a default judgment?
If the defendant fails to answer the claim or appear at the hearing, the judge can issue a default judgment without hearing from defendant. If a default judgment is entered, the plaintiff is awarded the amount that was requested in the claim along with 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 claim. If the defendant fails to respond, the defendant is in default.
Which Types of Cases are Usually filed in Towns County Small Claims Court?
Here are some examples of common case types which are filed in Towns County Small Claims court:
- A tenant refuses to pay for damages which are more than the security deposit
- A landlord wants to evict a tenant for failure to pay rent
- Tenant moves out and landlord refuses to return security deposit
- A Merchant fails to address issues with faulty merchandise
- A person who borrowed money refuses to return it
- Dry cleaning business damages or loses items and refuses to pay for damage or loss
- Automobile shop conducts unnecessary repairs or work on your car
Locations for Towns County Small Claims Court
The Towns County magistrate court is located at:48 River Street Suite C Hiawassee, GA 30546
The court can be reached by telephone at: 706-896-3467 and fax at . The magistrate judge is Chief Magistrate Dwight David Rogers.