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. The court uses personal service or certified mail to provide proper notice to the defendant.
Branch County Small Claims Court Cases
Small Claims Court cases in Branch County Michigan are heard in 3A District Court. A special branch of 3A District Court handles small claims court cases whose purpose is to settle and decide disputes concerning money without the use of attorneys or lawyers. Small claims court is designed so that a normal person (non-lawyer) can successfully use the court to hear their case. In small claims court in Michigan, attorneys are not allowed to argue cases for clients. A party does not need an attorney in small claims court (but can obviously consult with or talk to an attorney about their case if they want). At the hearing, a party is only expected to present their case in their own words. Small claims court is a special division of 3A District Court. District courts also handle other criminal and civil cases, in addition to small claims court.
Will a Decision be made at the Hearing?
The court can make a decision at the time of the hearing (after both sides have presented their case). The court can also take the matter under submission. If a matter is taken under submission, the court will notify both parties of the ruling (likely through mail).
How to File a Small Claims Court Case in Branch County
A party wishing to file a small claims court case needs to complete a form(print out and complete). Once filled out, the plaintiff needs to file the form with the 3A District Court clerk. When submitting the filing, the plaintiff will need to pay a filing fee. The filing fees 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 award the filing fee to the plaintiff as part of the costs of the action. After the case has been filed, the clerk can provide you with a court 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. Along with the court case number, the clerk should provide you with the location, date, and time of the hearing for your case.
Jurisdiction of Branch County Small Claims Court
A plaintiff should file the small claims court case in the district court where the defendant lives, where the defendant’s business is located, or where the transactions (that are at issue) occurred. The location of the filing is often 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. The court staff of the 3A District Court cannot provide advice, but it can tell you the geographic location the court serves. It is recommended you contact the court clerk of the District Court to confirm you have the proper venue.
Who Hears My Case in Branch County Small Claims Court
Juries are not allowed in small claims court cases. Small Claims Court cases are only heard in front of an attorney magistrate or a judge. Attorney Magistrates are attorneys that have been appointed by the court to assist the court with a variety of legal matters (including hearing small court cases). In most instances, an attorney magistrate will hear your case.
Small Claims Court Case Removal to 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). Removal to district court means the normal rules and procedures apply including specifically procedures related to the presentation of evidence and discovery process. Either the plaintiff or defendant can decide to remove the case from the small claims court division to the regular district court. To accomplish this, a party should fill out and file with the court clerk a Demand and Order for Removal, Small Claims. 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 Demand and Order for Removal is available on a website.
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.
Small Claims Court Case Types
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. Here are some examples of common types of small claims court cases:
- 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
- Any Intentional Harm or Damage
Branch County Small Claims Court Location
Small Claims Court cases in Branch County are handled in the 3A District Court. 3A District Court is located at:Branch County Courthouse 31 Division St. Coldwater, MI 49036
The phone number for Branch County District Court is: (517) 279-4308. The District Court can be found online here.
Defendant’s Options in Small Claims Court Cases
After being served with an Affidavit and Claim of a small claims court case, the defendant has the following options:
- Settling the case outside of court
- Removing or Transferring the Case to Regular District Court
- Appearing at the Small Claims Court Hearing
- Ignoring the case (and having the court issue a default at the hearing)
Can an attorney represent me in my Branch County Small Claims Court Case?
Parties are not allowed to be represented by attorneys in small claims court. Neither side is allowed to have an attorney represent them. Each side is required to represent himself or herself in front of the court. Either the plaintiff or the defendant can request that the case be removed to regular district court from small claims court (which would allow either side to utilize the services of an attorney). The disadvantage to this is that district court uses normal rules of discovery and presentation of evidence which means the case will take much longer to reach a conclusion.
Is there a Monetary Limit for Small Claims Court Cases in Branch County?
Small Claims courts cannot award more than $6,000 to a party. If a plaintiff filed a case in small claims court that the plaintiff believes is worth more, the case can still be filed in small claims court. If they do, the party waives their right to recover any amount above six thousand. The plaintiff is also precluded from suing again based on the same case after the case has been decided.
Preparing for a Hearing in Small Claims Court
You should gather all evidence well before the date of the hearing. This could include copies of contracts, purchase agreements, checks, photographs or videos. Both sides will be given the opportunity to present their case. It is strongly recommended you write out what you plan on saying before the hearing (at least an outline or bullet points). You should also try and arrange for any witnesses which support your position to be present in court at the hearing to present testimony.
What Happens at a Small Claims Court Hearing
The plaintiff presents his or her evidence first. 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.