Berrien County Small Claims Court, Michigan


What is the maximum amount of money that a Small Claims Court can Award in Berrien County?

Small Claims courts cannot award more than $6,000 to a party. If a party chooses to file their case in small claims court which is worth more than six thousand dollars, the party can still choose to file the case in small claims court. However, if you do, the plaintiff loses the right to any amount over $6,000. The plaintiff also cannot file an additional case based on the same case to recover the excess amount.

Serving the Defendant in a Small Claims Court Case

Once the case is filed, the court will attempt to provide the defendant with proper notice of the case by giving the defendant a copy of the Affidavit and Claim form initially filled out by the plaintiff. In addition to the filing fee, the plaintiff is also responsible for paying the cost of service of the defendant. Service is how the court ensures the defendant has notice of the nature of the lawsuit and the hearing date. Courts utilize both personal service and service by certified mail.

Preparing for a Small Claims Court Hearing

Both parties should gather all evidence well before the hearing. Evidence could include a contract, a purchase order, a receipt, pictures, or videos related to the case. Both sides will be given the opportunity to present their case. You should write out or prepare what you plan on saying ahead of time. Also, if there are any witnesses besides yourself who have information that would support your position, you should arrange to have them present at the hearing so they can present testimony to the court.

Berrien County Small Claims Court Jurisdiction

A Small Claims Court case needs to be filed where the defendant’s home is, where the defendant’s business is located (if you are suing a business), or where the transaction or event that the case arose from occurred. Where the case is filed is called venue. If a plaintiff files in the wrong district court, it will postpone your case being heard and may result in you paying multiple filing fees or even having the incorrectly filed case being dismissed by the court. While court staff cannot provide legal advice, it is recommended you contact the court clerk of the District Court to confirm that the court’s jurisdiction covers the geographic area needed for your case.

Is a Jury Available in a Berrien County Small Claims Court Case?

Juries are not available for a small claims court case. Small Claims Court cases are only heard in front of an attorney magistrate or a judge. An attorney magistrate is an attorney who has been appointed by the court to assist with certain types of cases and legal actions. Due to judicial funding, oftentimes, an attorney magistrate is used to hear a large portion of small claims court cases.

Filing a Small Claims Court Case in Berrien County

The forms for a plaintiff to fill out to begin a small claims court case can be found here. The form needs to be filed with the court clerk. The plaintiff will also have to pay a filing fee when filing a case. The fees for filing a small claims court case are:

  • $30 – for claims up to $600
  • $50 – for claims between $600 and $1,750
  • $70 – for claims between $1,750 and up to $6,000

If the plaintiff prevails in the case, the court may allow the plaintiff to request the cost of the filing fee be added to the damages in the case (and ultimately paid by the defendant). Once the case has been filed, the clerk should provide you with the case number. You should keep this court case number handy as it will help you identify your case when you speak with court staff or complete paperwork associated with your case. In addition to the case number, you should also be provided with the date, time, and location of the court hearing for your case.

Can an attorney represent me in my Berrien County Small Claims Court Case?

Small claims court does not allow parties to be represented by attorneys. Neither the plaintiff nor defendant can be represented by an attorney in small claims court. Each side is required to represent themselves in front of the judge or magistrate. Either side can request that the case be removed to regular district court (which means either side could then be represented by an attorney). The downside to this is that regular district court utilizes the normal rules of evidence and discovery which means your case will take longer to resolve.

Resolving a Case without a Hearing

Often, a court may try to settle or resolve a case short of an actual trial. This can be done through a process called mediation. A mediator will meet with both parties and attempt to find some common ground for resolving the claim without a trial.

Berrien County Small Claims Court Hearings

Plaintiff usually is given the first chance to present evidence. The defendant will then have the chance to present their side. If the plaintiff fails to appear at the hearing, the court can dismiss the case. If the defendant fails to appear at the hearing, the court can issue what is called a default judgment based on the case the plaintiff present.

Small Claims Court Locations in Berrien County

5th District Court handles small claims court cases in Berrien County. 5th District Court is located at:

Berrien County Courthouse
811 Port St.
St. Joseph, MI 49085

The phone number for Berrien County District Court is: (269) 983-7111. The 5th District Court can be foundonline.

Small Claims Court in Berrien County

Berrien County Small Claims Court

Berrien County Small Claims Court

Small Claims court cases in Berrien County are filed in the 5th District Court. The 5th District Court handles a variety of cases including small claims court cases. A special branch of 5th District Court handles small claims court cases whose purpose is to settle and decide disputes concerning money without the use of attorneys or lawyers. A party does not need to know anything about the law to file a small claims court case. In small claims court in Michigan, attorneys are not allowed to argue cases for clients. Neither party needs to hire an attorney for small claims court cases (but can consult with one for questions about their case). In small claims court, a party need only present their own side of their case in their own words. Although it is called small claims court, it is a division of the 5th District Court. The 5th District Court handles other types of civil cases along with criminal cases.

Removal of a Small Claims Court Case to 5th District Court

Removal is the legal name for transferring the case from small claims court to regular district court (which allows either side to be represented by an attorney and removes the $6,000 limit of small claims court). If the case is removed, it also means the process will be much lengthier as the normal rules of evidence and discovery will now apply. Either party can request to move the case out of small claims court. In order to do this, a party needs to complete and file a Demand and Order for Removal, Small Claims with the court clerk. This document needs to be filed prior to the small claims court trial or hearing and can actually be filed the same day (so long as it is before the hearing starts). The document can be found online.

Ruling After a Small Claims Court Hearing

The court may make a decision at the hearing after both sides presented their evidence. The court may also take the case under submission (and rule at a later time). If a matter is taken under submission, the court will notify both parties of the ruling (likely through mail).

Option for a Defendant After Being Sued in Small Claims Court

After being served with an Affidavit and Claim of a small claims court case, the defendant has the following options:

  • Ignoring the Case (which could end up with the court issuing a default judgment against you)
  • Settling the Case Outside of Court
  • Transferring the Case out of Small Claims Court
  • Appearing at the Court Hearing

Types of Cases in Small Claims Court

Small claims court only handles civil cases where the amount in dispute is $6,000 or less. A party can only ask for money in small claims court. If a plaintiff (or defendant in a counter-claim) is seeking specific property or an order from the court requiring a person to take certain action, the case should not be filed in small claims court. Common types of cases handled in small claims court include the following:

  • Traffic Collisions
  • Tenant and landlord disputes over a security deposit
  • Cases concerning contractual terms, performance, and payment

The following cases cannot be filed in small claims court:

  • Assault and Battery
  • Slander
  • Libel
  • Any action based on intentional harm or damages